Book Review: “Departure” (A.G. Riddle)

I don’t read that many big action-packed thrillers. Have no idea why. It’s just not my thing (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even watch Lost on T.V. – so sue me!). But I picked up the book Departure when I was recently traveling in Australia, although I’m sure it’s on sale everywhere else too. I was on vacation and in the mood for a fun read. This was actually more than that and I was very pleasantly surprised. It starts out as an airline disaster story with an airplane crash – not a spoiler, it’s obvious from the cover. But then it moves into more cerebral territory when the characters have to figure out where they are and why no one is coming to look for them. See? That’s why I mentioned Lost earlier! It soon becomes a riveting sci-fi action/adventure/love story with a really intelligent plot. It’s hard to review this novel without giving it away, but suffice to say the author deftly plays with reader expectations and we wonder for quite a while where and when we are and whether there are aliens tromping around on an uncharted part of the planet or if something else equally weird is going on.

What I particularly liked about this book, as an aspiring sci-fi writer myself, was the plot. This is one of the neatest plot arcs I’ve seen in a good long while. The story is told from alternating points of view of the two leads (Harper and Nick) who, despite the situation and despite the odds, are attracted to each other from the moment they meet on the ill-fated flight. Their fate is clearly intertwined with that of the unpleasant character in Seat 2D (aka Grayson).

The two points of view are needed to cover the scope of the plot and the world Riddle has created here, but the characters’ stories intertwine sufficiently for the reader not to get lost in one story over the other. Additionally, the characters are all distinctly drawn so the alternating viewpoints are not confusing on that score either. It’s always clear whose head the reader is in at any given point in time. The first person joint narration also keeps the reader close to the characters’ respective emotions and engaged in both their internal and external journeys. Part of the point is that who we are underneath it all (our backstory and how it has created us as humans) plays a large part in our choices about the future.

All the reveals and revelations are well timed and the story ends on a “meta” note that takes the reader outside the story and asks us to question our own futures along with those of the two leads. Clear, crisp structure and writing, fast-paced action and a touch of sweet romance make this book more than an action thriller. It’s something I really enjoyed much more than I expected to (And of course it’s slated as a new big budget movie – rights bought last year by Fox. I hope they don’t mess it up!).