Beneath the Rising is a beautiful, exciting, hilarious, devastating, breathtaking, intimate adventure novel about power and privilege, and about friendships that smother and sustain us. There are a lot of books “about power and privilege” coming out right now, but Rising isn’t about rich white people behaving badly—not really. It’s about surviving and maybe even fighting back against them.
There are really three main characters here—Johnny, the genius: rich, white, and exceptional in every way; Nick, the narrator: poor, brown, “ordinary,” and nearly invisible in her shadow; and their friendship. They have been each other’s best and only friends for so long that the relationship between them has not only gravity but also personality and will of its own.
At seventeen, Johnny has already cured AIDS and dementia, made strides towards ending hunger and houselessness, and solved the plastics crisis. She’s already changed the world, but her newest invention, a clean energy device with limitless capacity, is going to
make it unrecognizable. Assuming the eldritch Ancient Ones the device awakened don’t destroy it first. Johnny embarks on a globe trotting quest to find a way to stop them, and their friendship drags Nick along with her, even though they both know he’s powerless to help her.
I said it already, but Beneath the Rising is just gorgeous. It’s a vivid sensory experience full of heart and humor and odors so meticulously detailed they could almost be indie perfume descriptions. It starts slow and builds momentum in a way that cleverly mirrors Nick and Johnny’s friendship, so that by the halfway point, even when I knew I should put it down and try to get some weekend chores done, I just couldn’t.
One thing I loved about this take on Lovecraft’s mythos is that it isn’t a Wicked-style “What if the monsters were good?” retelling. The monsters are still incomprehensibly evil, but like a chiropractor, Premee Mohamed has aligned them the way they always should have been, not with the marginalized but with the powerful. AND she manages to sidestep the way that powerful magical villains often come off as cool and aspirational. The Ancient Ones are too inhuman and too rarely seen to try to emulate, and their human allies are invariably greedy, selfish, shortsighted, and kind of pathetic.
But mostly I loved Nick—hardworking, responsible, loyal Nick, who is (with one exception) never recognized for the great kid he is but goes on trying his best anyway, even though he doesn’t believe it will make any difference. He broke my heart. I love him so much. I want to double knot his shoes and make sure he remembers his lunch. I hope good things happen for him in the sequel, because he deserves so many good things.
Paperback Page Count: 416 pages
Audiobook Listening Length: 11 hours 24 minutes