by A. G. Riddle

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

My entire life I’ve had an unexplained fear of airplanes. To be more specific, I have had reoccurring dreams of being in a plane crash and possibly not surviving with all the burning and the explosions and screaming. I find that I am getting on planes more and more the older I get and even though I’m told “flying is the safest way to fly” (I was told this by several different people before taking a transcontinental flight that made two emergency landings, though I think the safest way to travel may still be in an elevator), it still makes me clench when I take off and land. Though I know this is a common fear, reading books about plane crashes while riding on a plane is less common. Reading a book about a plane crash where the few survivors face even more horrors is something most fliers should avoid--unless they really want to find something interesting.

A routine flight from New York to London is about to have some problems and not just from the unruly passenger in first class that has been hitting the overpriced booze a litter too hard. The boozehound is making it difficult for everyone in the cabin including writer, Harper Lane, and the mysterious yet handsome Nick Stone. Nick intervenes, saving everyone from what could potentially be a very ugly scene. As he settles in and attempts to introduce himself to Harper, the plane tears itself apart.

The plane crashes in the remote English countryside. And by remote I mean so far from civilization that there are no lights, no people, and no cell service. The few survivors (which include our protagonists, Nick and Harper) have to launch a daring rescue of the others trapped on one half of the plane that is sinking in a lake. After lives are saved, the group has to start wondering why no search parties have come looking for them hours later. And why in modern times are they in a place with absolutely no cellular service. What’s generally thought of as a “first world problem” takes on a different meaning when people are bleeding to death and society has lost so many skills.

Why learn something when you could always just look it up on your phone on a Google or YouTube search?

If things didn’t seem bad enough, something strange is going on with two of the survivors. One is a computer scientist, Yul Tan, that despite everything happening won’t stop his work. And a genetic researcher, Sabrina Schröder, seems to know something about what is happening--and seems to have some sort of previous relationship with Tan. 

Nick takes a group out scouting. If civilization won’t come to them, he figures he’ll go to civilization. But Nick and the group stumble upon something that throws everything they thought out the window. And someone finally comes looking for the crash. But they’re not here to help. They set everything in motion to either save the world, or end it.

The first chunk of the novel starts of strong. Though I’m not crazy about plane crashes it is always good to read about people living through it and even making something of it. The mystery of what is happening after the crash really grips the reader. It’s like a Lovecraft story or Shirley Jackson novel where the true horrors (or the main events) are off stage leaving the reader to develop thousands of possible reasons for what is happening. However, no matter how fascinating the wizard, we eventually have to look behind the curtain. 

Riddle developed a multi-layered explanation as to what is happening with heaving helpings of greed, scientific advancement, and politically maneuvering. And though he did a good job laying all of this out, it still felt lacking. The technology wasn’t really anything new, it even had a few nods to the big three in Sci-fi. The story was well written and well paced. But what could have been was so much more fascinating than what actually happened. That’s not to say the story wasn’t satisfying, though it did make me think of the 1989 film Millennium. For those of you that remember that awful thing, the book wasn’t terrible like the film, it just has a few elements that make me think the author may have seen it, or was in a room once while it was on in the background.

The characters were an interesting choice as well. The characters start off rather bland with the hints of cliché nipping on the edges. But after the plane crashes we see a slightly different side that endears us to the protagonists. And when the antagonists are finally reveled in the third act, it truly was something no one would have expected. 

Departure is an intriguing book even if it doesn’t fully live up to the grand story the first half sets up. Grab a copy and take it with you on your next flight to stay…distracted.