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The Calling, Book One in the Finding Humanity series, is a YA dystopian sci-fi novel by author Branwen OShea.

I spent most of one night, early morning & early afternoon the following day reading this book, because I was enraptured. The conclusion? This book is another one of those complete under-the-radar gems that deserves much, much more attention!

What’s the book about? In a desolate future, a new Ice Age has dawned, and Earth’s surface is arctic-like. This inhospitable landscape has driven humankind underground, to inhabit protected subterranean dwellings. Some humans, called the Undescended, who had been left above-ground to perish, supposedly still live, and have animosity towards their below-ground counterparts. So topside, Earth is not entirely devoid of existence. Star Beings also reside above-ground. But the Star Beings, who are more benevolent, share the planet’s surface with Undescended and dangerous creatures who prey on other forms of life.

Still, nothing will stop a particularly intrepid young Star Being, named Rana, from achieving the nominal, all-important final stage of Star Being development, which is known as becoming a “Crowned One”. Rana’s parents have not become Crowned. Rana fears that she will share their fate, and it is considered a failure among the Star Beings not to achieve Crowning. To demonstrate her value, and hoping to be Crowned in the process, Rana chooses to embark on a perilous quest: to make contact with humans.

Meanwhile below-ground, a youth named Bleu Reinier lives the the Northern Haven section of the humans abode, with his mother, Dr. Cassandra Reinier, and sister, Ayanna. Ayanna falls victim to the fatal Sickness that will first drive her insane before it kills her. The Sickness is not confined to Ayanna. It is a contagion, escalating quickly through the ranks of the subterranean humans, and they are in danger of being wiped out by the disease. At least, those with so-called inferior genetics, will surely be culled by the Sickness.

Bleu starts having weird visions, and becomes convinced that going above is the key to both the visions, and curing Ayanna. Desperate to save his beloved sibling, and everyone he cares about, Bleu risks venturing on a daring mission above-ground. This brings him directly into the path of Rana. Like Rana, Bleu and his comrades have survived savage attacks by other ground dwelling creatures. And though Blue and Rana become allies, ancient hostilities and mistrust threaten to bring war between human and Star Beings. Blue and Rana, mutually attempt to avert nuclear catastrophe, and the end of all life forms, both above and below.

Let’s discuss the characters first, including how many POVs there are in The Calling. Protagonists Bleu and Rana get the lion’s share of the narrative, but Atsushi’s, Kern’s, and Kahali’s voices are also heard. I have read some reviews that note, there were a lot of POVs to absorb in the book. I completely understand that opinion, and I am someone who prefers first-person, single POV books. Yet for me, I did not find it too much at all (compare reading something like ASOIAF – which of course I love – where each book in GRRMs series averages ten POVs per novel!). And, I found the POV switches extremely well-handled by OShea, and I had no issues whatsoever with keeping track of the characters, where they were located, what they were doing, and what their relationships with the other characters were.

Typically in the book, we are given at least a few chapters consecutively of one POV, before it switches to another. Only to increase the dramatic tension, do we get the more abrupt back and forths between POVs, and for me it worked great! The characters are very well drawn, yet Rana was definitely my favourite. Like the rest of the players, she is composed in a realistic fashion by OShea: flawed, but likable. And you know I love my baddies, so OShea tossed in some malevolence in one POV. Having the POV of a threatening character is always completely awesome, and really ramps up the sense of dread.

Compelling themes in The Calling include love, prejudice, eugenics, patriarchy, environmentalism, human relationships with nature and animal life, apocalypse, and more. There were some interesting takes on these themes by OShea, and I have the strong feeling she is setting readers up for even deeper exploration of these concepts in future novels. Overall, despite the icy starkness of the world, the violence, the controversial eugenics, the bigotry and mistrust of other cultures, OShea ultimately gives the reader hope for the future of the world she has created, if different factions can overcome their worse instincts, and come together for the common cause of survival.

The book starts off as a slow-burn, setting the scene, with some fantastic world-building, as the reader is introduced to the different cultures above and below Earth’s surface. But the plot explodes into plenty of great action pieces in the mid and later parts of the book. The confrontations, including with the various creatures, like wolverine-type menaces, were amazing. Sci-fi fans will be treated to some neat technological aspects, combined with the feeling of primal clashes, which only added to the heart-pounding aspect of the combat scenes. There are some devastating loses in those battles, where the reader will feel sadness, and great triumphs, that the reader will find exhilarating.

And, for YA fans, what YA book would be complete without some teen angst, yearning, and a juicy love triangle? The Calling has all that, and driven by OShea’s accessible writing, engrossing plot, and intriguing themes, I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a thick book, with my version being just under 500 pages, but it read quickly for me.

As I noted earlier, this book is definitely an “under-the-radar” one that needs more love, and I am very glad I decided to read The Calling. Highly recommended, and I give it a 4.75 star rating out of five.

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