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Underground Airlines Hardcover – July 5, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of July 2016: A powerful look what might have been, Ben Winters creates an alternate reality based on the absence one of our most important historical events: The Civil War. Slavery has infected the United States, permeating the everyday lives of most Americans without much thought until a group of citizens come forward to try and make a difference. This trailblazing and well thought out novel plays the role of mystery-thriller while poignantly illuminating the many ways life today is more like Winters' alternative world than we may want to admit. --Penny Mann, The Amazon Book Review
A New York Times Bestseller; a Goodreads Choice finalist; named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, Slate, Publishers Weekly, Hudson Bookseller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kirkus Reviews, AudioFile Magazine, and Amazon
"This one kept me up at night and changed the way I saw the world once I was finished."―Ann Patchett, Time
"An extraordinary work of alternate history . . . Indisputably a winner"―Maureen Corrigan, NPR
"Underground Airlines is a masterful work of art with a gripping mystery at its most basic level. It's also a complex allegory woven throughout with sparking rich dialogue and multiple shades of awareness. Passengers, fasten your seat belts. The ride may be turbulent, but that's what makes it great."―Jen Forbus, Christian Science Monitor
"A swift, smart, angry new novel . . . Its vibrant imagination never slackens. . . . As a feat of world-building, Underground Airlines is astonishing, immediately taking its place in the genre's very first rank."―Charles Finch, USA Today
"[Winters] paints a convincing picture of what fugitive life would look like in our own era... he wants to get us to see the past in the present-the innumerable ways that we still live in a world made by slavery."―Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker
"An immersive thriller as well as a provocative alternative history, 'Underground Airlines' showcases a fully realized central character who believes his own disturbing past can be kept safely buried. But history has a way of bubbling to the surface of the present."―Jean Zimmerman, New York Times Book Review
"[A] striking work of speculative fiction . . . Winters creates a powerful and timely ethical framework for his fast-moving new thriller."―Jane Ciabattari, BBC
"Chilling"―Alexandra Alter, New York Times
"Ralph Ellison's The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller. . . . The novel's closing section contains several breathtaking reversals, a genuinely disturbing revelation, and an exhilarating final course of action for Victor."―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Explosive, well plotted, and impossible to put down, this alt-hist by the Edgar Award-winning author of the "Last Policeman" trilogy will attract readers of all genres. . . . Fast paced and filled with menace, the story has an ambience that makes it special."―Library Journal (starred)
"A daring and very well constructed novel"―Booklist
"Astonishing . . . A timely novel focusing on race and equality . . . Winters handles the controversial topic with sensitivity, yet isn't afraid to ask some bold questions along the way."―BookPage
"[Underground Airlines] is powerful, suspenseful, and devastating-hard to put down, even harder to forget."―Family Circle
"Strange, modern . . . [A] genre-bending detective yarn"―Oprah.com
"Underground Airlines is a masterwork of world-building...[the book] gives you an incredibly complex character to explore it with, ensuring that your attention is well-spent down to the last page." ―- LitReactor
"A top-flight thriller that's as emotionally searing and tragically plausible as anything in contemporary fiction."―Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
"The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around-and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten."―Hugh Howey, New York Times-bestselling author of Wool
"Underground Airlines is bold, brilliant, and beautiful -- everything you could want from a novel, Ben Winters delivers ten-fold. He's a writer to watch, one of exceptional vision and imagination whose characters draw the reader in to the point that an alternate history seems not only plausible, but the only one that counts until the final page."―Michael Koryta, author of Those Who Wish Me Dead
"A rich noir in a terrifingly convincing alternate America. It's both beautiful and brutal. The Handmaid's Tale for Black Lives Matter."―Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls
"It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea - and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story."―James Patterson
"Brilliantly written, terrifyingly conceived, Underground Airlines had me from the first page to the last. Many writers might have been content to set a few characters loose in the middle of the kind of powerful premise - slavery in four states never ended -put to work here, but Winters gives us gripping plot, clear-eyed social commentary and chilling implications. This may be alternate history, but what it has to say about actual, enduring race and racism cuts awfully close to the 21st century American bone."―Laird Hunt, author of Neverhome
"Smart, quick and tricky, Ben Winters knows how to pull off a high-concept thriller. Fans of The Man in the High Castle will love Underground Airlines."―Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen
Top Customer Reviews
Winters tells a cracking good detective story with twists that always fooled me and characters that were morally complex. I particularly liked that Winters shared enough of the history of this alternate America without bogging down his narrative yet left me hungry to know more (For example, what was America's role in the two world wars as the world shuns a slave owning USA?) For those looking for a thinking person's thriller for the summer, this is your book
It’s today and the long-standing North-South comprise on slavery has created a divided and tense nation. As southern states shifted from slave to free over time, complicated and elaborate trade policies developed aimed at restricting trade with the Hard Four, a way of making everybody outside the Four feel good about themselves.
Part of the compromise covers capturing and returning fugitive slaves. Turns out that most people in the free states, including law enforcement, want no part of returning escapees to slavery. The federal government employs undercover African-American agents to ferret out and return fugitives in accordance with the compromise. These agents work at the job to maintain their own freedom. Victor, one of many assumed names, is such an agent and he is tracking down a very special fugitive called Jackdaw, though at the outset Victor doesn’t know what makes Jackdaw so extraordinary.
To find Jackdaw, Victor travels to Indianapolis, where rumors have it he may discover his quarry.There he hooks up with the Underground Airlines (no planes involved, sorry) of the title. He hopes to infiltrate the group and use them to flush out Jackdaw. But, as thrillers will have it, nothing goes as it should. He finds himself involved with a young woman and her child in search of a black man she loved, as he tries to carry out his assignment. Plus, the Underground Airlines seem to have their own agenda and appear to be using Victor to accomplish it. Then there is the nagging question of what makes Jackdaw so special. Even this is not simple and leads to its own twists and intrigue.
The real meat of the novel doesn’t come until the end of Part 1 and into Part 2. It’s here that the intrigue ramps up and that we see just what life is like in the slavery South. Many readers will wish there had been more of this, more of life in the Hard Four, more of the slavery rationalizations, the fog used to disguise a cruel system, and more about the structure of the U.S. itself. But probably, upon consideration, that would be a different kind of novel, and perhaps even a series. Leave it at, good at what it does.
What is amazing about Underground Airlines is how much that has been minimized. Sure, the entire complexion of the United States has been changed, but the reader is kept focused only on what matters. Yes, it took some dedication to get through the first chapter or two, but then it was an easy ride.
Strong characterization, tightly woven plot, surprise ending - this one has it all! Best -or worst - of all, it creates a much deeper appreciation - horror - for the real nature of slavery.