Review: Below Zero – Dan Smith (Illustrated by Steve Wells)

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’

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Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title: Below Zero
Author: Dan Smith (@DanSmithAuthor)
Illustrator (Cover): Steve Wells (@SteveWellsArt)
Publisher: Chicken House (@chickenhsebooks)
Page count: 304
Date of publication: 4th January 2017
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910655924

Perfect for: Year 5, Year 6, Year 7 & Year 8.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Chilling ❄️
2. Gripping ✊
3. Tense 😮


When Zak’s plane crash-lands on Outpost Zero, a small Antarctic research base in one of the most isolated places on Earth, he discovers a cold, dark nightmare. The power’s out and the people who live there have disappeared. Worse, as he searches for answers, bizarre visions suggest a link to something else – deep beneath the ice – which only he can understand…


The first line:

There was something happening at Outpost Zero.


Review: Brace yourself because there’s no holding back as a sudden surge of panic pulls you in from the opening page to this already action-packed, arctic adventure as we encounter Sofia Diaz in a flashback three days ago from Outpost Zero. Sofia, the youngest member on base at Outpost Zero at fourteen years old, is stationed there with her family and seven others to participate in experimental training for the Exodus Project for a future life on Mars. However, a number of others are also there for altogether unexpected and unexplained reasons…

The pace of the story unrelentingly pulsates on, as we turn to the next chapter, with the attention switching to twelve-year-old Zak Reeves who is supposed to be enjoying a relaxing holiday in the sun with his family – Mum, Dad and older sister May – before he visits hospital for surgery for an as yet unnamed illness. From the start, there’s a sense of foreboding whereby we begin to notice that Zak is different. But it’s not until the end that we discover exactly how different he is.

Instead, the whole family have to cut their exotic holiday short to board a plane to the Antarctic in order to fix the ‘spider drones’ his parents have designed to support the Exodus mission as a result of them starting to mysteriously malfunction. As they arrive (…just!) on one of the last available planes in to Outpost Zero due to forecasted adverse weather conditions, they realise that things are about to go awry from the moment their plane crash lands in to the ice outside the research base whilst the whole site is plunged in to an abandoned and absolute darkness. This leaves Zak and his family finding themselves caught up in a flurry of fright and fear that will gradually end up with them fighting for their lives…

Throughout the story, the interchange of the dual narrative, which only adds to the suspense, between chapters backwards to Sofia Diaz and forwards to Zak in the present day continues. Further on, a triple narrative transpires as we are introduced to a new character known only by his alias, The Broker. It would be only maybe here that I could foresee any potential difficulties arising for some reading independently – particularly those readers closer to the lower age of recommendation – as they may be unsure of how to temper these three storylines occurring sequentially. But, by this point you’ll be feeling how I did where the sheer apprehension of what was about to happen to Zak next meant that you just have to read on to find out more with every turn of the page…

As the plot mysteriously shifts from the eerie and the sinister to the anxious and the downright heart-pounding, Zak makes a very important and other-wordly discovery about himself that’s been tormenting him ever since he got here.

Winter is not the only thing that’s coming for Zak…

As he starts to hear things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

But then he starts to feel things…
Tick-tack. Tick-tack.

And then he starts to see things…

A discovery, deep within his psyche, which culminates in an almost apocalyptic, catastrophic crescendo of a climax that would rival any of the battles from Star Wars (I know from the references dotted throughout the book that the author, Dan, is a huge fan!) as nearly all of the previously described characters – under the condemned instructions of The Broker – converge for one last time.

I particularly enjoyed the brother-sister relationship between Zak and May and it is portrayed perfectly in that they initially tease, argue, annoy and fight with each other and they might not declare an immediate fondness for each other all the time yet we recognise early on how important they are for each other and this comes to an all important head at the very end of the story.

Fraught with all of the most essential ingredients found in the best adventure stories (i.e. tension, high intensity and peril), the front cover warns you that ‘Your blood will run cold…’ so as Dan advises in Below Zero, ‘Be Prepared’ or failing that, at least listen to and try to adopt the unofficial motto and mantra of the US Marines and ‘improvise, adapt and overcome’.

Thank you to the lovely Dan Smith and Jazz Bartlett at Chicken House for sending me an early copy.

Below Zero is available to order now online or from any good bookshop.

‘A spine-tingling sci-fi adventure that both trembles and thrills whilst embodying all of the bite, chill and snap of the setting that it takes place in.’


Mr E
📚

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