By Joel Ross
Age Range 11-14
A character-driven adventure novel that despite some highly original and thought provoking science fiction / steampunk concepts, prefers to lean more heavily on its relationship-drama beats.
The Fog Diver presents readers with a fairly realized world that is bound to be expanded upon in subsequent books. Despite only being lightly explored in this, the first book in the series, it is undoubtedly an excellent premise that writer Joel Ross has imagined.
The Fog Diver is set in the world as we know it, after being engulfed by a thick and deadly fog of nanites. The Nanites were ironically designed to rid the world of pollution but upon recognizing humans as the key source of pollution, evolved into a fog encoded to eradicate the human race. Now, the survivors live on the highest mountain peaks of the world above the fog in the last habitable places and travel in pneumatic airships. It’s all very steampunk at times, and is certainly among the best examples of the genre available for tween readers.
The protagonist, a boy Chess, is immune to the fog, enabling him to be a tetherboy; someone who dives from an airship through the fog to explore the human-less surface below. There, Chess scavenges for all manner of valuable items in the hope of finding something that could afford him and his crew passage off the slum-like lower slopes of the mountainside.
Chess’s ability is rare, almost unheard of and thus he is wanted by the villainous Lord Kodoc who wishes to use Chess to locate the Compass, a device which can purportedly control the nanites and allow its operator control over the fog and therefore the world.
Ross characterises the books tone and characters through their discovery and bewilderment of the strange artefacts Chess collects. They are everyday items that the reader will immediately recognise though that the central characters can only guess of their intended function. Additionally, Ross weaves in all sorts of misremembered history. Not only do these kids mistake Star Wars for myth but they go further and combine pop culture icons in hilarious ways that really entertain between the drama and tense suspense.
The Fog Diver has an excellent premise, lots of humour and suspense that leads to a story in which almost each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, propelling the reader through its lean narrative. And therein is perhaps the books limitation; its fast pace puts a limit on the sense of discovery in this world. There are really three lean acts in The Fog Diver and it certainly leaves you wanting to come back for more. It is a book very much for its age group and I do hope the series gains a following. Though in a post Harry Potter world, it has neither the depth nor detail to let it stand out as anything other than another really good series for young adults in an increasingly talent-crowded market.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross