Book Review: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Title: Underground Airlines
Author: Ben H. Winters
Published: July 2016
Publisher: Mulholland Books
From: Barnes and Noble
Awhile ago, I decided to do a review for my local book club I’m a member of. I am the youngest in the circle by about 30 years, and I feel it is very difficult to choose a book to review that the ladies would appreciate. The first novel I reviewed was The Hobbit, which fit the theme of a book published between 1915 and 1945. However, I was under the impression a children’s book was a bit less relateable than books other ladies reviewed. So, I sent only the descriptions of three books to my boyfriend, all adult novels with interesting plots, and he chose this one: Underground Airlines.
Underground Airlines is a book about slavery and takes place in modern times. It changes history, so Abraham Lincoln was killed sooner, and the Civil War never happened, and slavery still exists in our current times with cell phones and other modern technology. The main character, who goes by several names, but mostly Victor, is a Black man who is employed by the United States government as a bounty hunter. His job is to catch Black runaway slaves and return them.
I love this whole plot. Alternate history is, to me, basically historical science fiction. It takes this hugely important series of events, starting as far back as 200 years ago or more, and pretends things happened different than they did, and that no one ever officially ended the worst thing in American history.
So, Victor is charged with finding a runaway slave named Jackdaw. He is given all the information he needs, and begins his investigation in Indianapolis, where it is known Jackdaw was intending to go. During his investigation, however, Victor befriends a White woman named Martha and her biracial son, Lionel. Victor remains in Indianapolis, continuing to look for Jackdaw, but the longer he does so, the more he learns about who Jackdaw is, and how his existence means doom for the United States government and slavery.
Ben H. Winters has a history of creating award-winning books with unique plots, and this novel is no different. He created a modern world with a horrible difference, making me question everything I know about people in power, and even those who aren’t. it was published in 2016, during a time in our current true history when race and racial ties became so important and up front in politics and news. Victor is a character who surprised me at first, but the longer the story went on, the more I understood his motivations. The same goes for Martha and her son, though I relate to Martha in a completely different way than I do Victor. That is something I loved about this book: the characters, despite their history and choices, they’re still human, we as readers can still relate to the troubles going on in their heads.
I cannot wait to read another novel by Winters within a similar genre, for I think the adult ideologies and subject matter involved with a fantastical world were the perfect combination. I just want more from him!
Ben H. Winters’ book Underground Airlines can be found online and in stores as places such as Barnes and Noble. Winters’ other novels can be found in various other genre sections.