Joel Ross, already the author of two adult WWII thriller novels, premiers his middle-grade writing career with an exciting, endearing tale set centuries in the future, The Fog Diver. Chess, an orphan, was found and raised by Mrs. E. He wasn't the only one, and he and his four adoptive siblings make one of the best salvage crews in the Junkyard, a series of floating docks tethered to a high mountain peak. They sail their rickety airship out over the Fog, a deadly layer that encompasses the world and infects any human who stays in it for long, earning their living by bringing up salvage from beneath the murky vapor. But Mrs. E has finally succumbed to fogsickness, and in order to save her, Chess and his created family will need more than the good luck of one prosperous salvage; they'll have to escape the Junkyard altogether and seek out Port Oro, a city forbidden to anyone living in the Junkyard, under control of the power-hungry Lord Kodoc.
But plans are accelerated when Chess finds something miraculous on a dive: a diamond. It'll be enough to buy their small family passage on a smuggling vessel, if they can keep it safe until then. Other forces are conspiring against their ragged but talented group, though; Kodoc is looking for a boy with strange powers like those Chess displays in the fog, a boy with the same fog-clouded eye that Chess hides behind his hair. If Chess should fall into Kodoc's hands, illegal possession of a diamond will be the least of his worries. So as the net closes around them, Chess and his crew race to find a way off of the mountain, to safety, and for the medical technology necessary to save Mrs. E.
Ross's vision of a future world is both creative and insightful: he blends elements of sci-fi and steampunk to form a unique back story about the rise of the fog, what it is, what it means and how it might be controlled. Even designing the fog and its makeup to specifically target humans, leaving the plants and animals to thrive within it, was a stroke of creative genius. It's a cautionary tale as well as a story of human audacity and survival, living off the bare minimum and hoping for a better future.
Especially humorous to me were the references to what life was like before the fog. Looking through newspaper clippings and other remnants left behind for Chess in his father's scrapbook, the crew learns about pop icons like Elvis Parsley, can identify the constellation Oprah, and knows about now-extinct species like spelling bees and hello kitties. Adventures were even had by the spaceship the X-Wing Enterprise (It's good to know that in the future, apparently the disagreements between hardcore Star
Wars and Star Trek fans were set aside.) These hilarious mistaken references had me chuckling throughout the book, and both young readers and adults are sure to find them amusing.
The other focal point of this book that I especially liked was the emphasis on the validity of a created family. Chess and his crewmates Hazel, Swedish, and Bea were all found and adopted by Mrs. E. Thanks to her they had a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, and people on whom they could rely. Each plays an important role in the family as well as on the salvage raft, a fact that is discussed by their group at one point as well. Swedish, the pilot, is the anchor of the group; Hazel, the captain, is their dreams; Bea, a gifted engineer, is their heart; and Chess is their hope. They all come from different backgrounds, but each brings something essential to the others and all are united by their love of Mrs. E and their commitment to each other. This story and the characters in it strike a perfect balance between the tale of adventure and the message of family ties.
If you're looking for a high-flying adventure full of nanotechnology, daring do, sky pirates and a delightfully horrible villain, then be sure to pick up a copy of The Fog Diver by Joel Ross. It's a treat to read and a good reminder that your true family - blood-related or otherwise - are the ones who will always be there to watch your back and embrace your quirks and follies. It will be released on the 26th of this month and is available for pre-order now at your favorite local, independent bookstore.
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