Salvation Day by Kari Wallace science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSalvation Day by Kari Wallace science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSalvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, Salvation Day didn’t do much for me. My biggest issue was that I had a hard time believing that House of Wisdom, an enormous spaceship with hundreds of dead bodies aboard, has been orbiting Earth for ten years without anybody investigating it. Earth has passenger shuttles that go to orbit all the time, so it’s not a problem to get there. If the argument is that nobody wanted to be exposed to whatever was on the ship, why not send people in hazmat suits, or send robots? At least they could see what was in there, and get some data and records. Indeed, when the terrorists get on the ship, they discover all sorts of important information (sights, data, recordings) that should have been collected before. This made no sense and it kind of ruined the story for me.

Besides that, though, there were some other issues. The publisher’s blurb (below) claims that the story is “incredibly fast-paced” while my personal notes say otherwise. It takes a long time to even get into the House of Wisdom after the kidnapping begins (which occurs in the first scene after the prologue). There are lots of flashbacks, and long periods of characters’ backstory and introspection, making the character development fairly strong but making the pace anything but “incredibly fast,” at least for the first third of the novel. But all that character development didn’t work for me, either, because Wallace didn’t convince me to like or care about any of her characters. In the end, a whole lot of people died in Salvation Day, and I didn’t care at all. Thus, I feel like all that character development time was wasted and that perhaps a shorter story would have worked better.

More minor issues are the repetitive dialogue and conversations, the over-the-top evil villain, the heavy foreshadowing that alerts us to characters’ decisions before they make them, and the way the characters decipher data and figure out what happened to the plague ship way too easily. (And, again, I say that if it was so easy to figure out this very important information, why didn’t they get it ten years ago?)

There are bright spots in Salvation Day such as a creepy walk through the abandoned plague ship, some truly intense and frightful moments involving what seems at first to be a zombie, and a couple of recurring themes involving survivor’s guilt and sending people away for their own safety. (Aside: is the phrase “recurring theme” redundant?) The best parts of Salvation Day were the occasional discussions about governmental tyranny, ostracization of political minorities, and terrorism. Most of this happens in the final chapter of the novel, though.

I listened to Penguin Audio’s edition of Salvation Day which is 11.5 hours long. There were three narrators: Vikas Adam, Kimberly Farr, and Kyla Garcia. I tend to prefer one rather than multiple narrators because it’s confusing when the characters end up having multiple voices depending on which POV we’re hearing from, but I understand why it was done in this case. It’s because the story is alternately told by Jaswinder (a male) and Zahra (a female). Vikas Adam is perfectly cast for Jaswinder’s voice, but his voices for some of the female characters are cringey. Kyla Garcia is also well cast as Zahra, the terrorist. It’s too bad that the story requires her to use her sharply-pitched panicked voice so often, though.

Published in July 2019. A lethal virus is awoken on an abandoned spaceship in this incredibly fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller. They thought the ship would be their salvation. Zahra knew every detail of the plan. House of Wisdom, a massive exploration vessel, had been abandoned by the government of Earth a decade earlier, when a deadly virus broke out and killed everyone on board in a matter of hours. But now it could belong to her people if they were bold enough to take it. All they needed to do was kidnap Jaswinder Bhattacharya—the sole survivor of the tragedy, and the last person whose genetic signature would allow entry to the spaceship. But what Zahra and her crew could not know was what waited for them on the ship—a terrifying secret buried by the government. A threat to all of humanity that lay sleeping alongside the orbiting dead. And then they woke it up.