Monday, November 23, 2020

Under the Earthline (Sons of Martha #3), by Laura Montgomery

Good evening, to all my friends and neighbors in Internet Land! And, to family members who have dropped by: “How could anyone ever be cross, with turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce?” 
I’d answer that, but since I’m already known as a GRINCH, never mind.

What follows is the cover art, AND an Amazon Associates link. Click it and buy something, and I get a few pennies.

Let me give you a small illustration of how I feel about this book:  A short while ago, I discovered that the latest episode of “The Mandalorian” had been released. I chose to review the book, instead of heading to the Disney Channel.

Four Preliminaries.

1. Background. This is the THIRD book in the “Sons of Martha” series, and to be properly understood, you must have read volumes 1 and 2. Let me put that in perspective for you: before I can properly enjoy the third kiss with my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, I must first give her the first and second kisses. Montgomery’s words are kisses for the reader, lovely invitations to get to know the characters, and understand HOW and WHY they do the things they do. Trust me on this: you will not want to miss the first two books.

Now, PRIOR to the Sons of Martha, Montgomery published the three-volume Waking Late series, which is set on the same world. I don’t really think that you MUST read that series first, but it’s likely you will have to play some catch-up. The world of both series is referred to as NWWWLF, and acronym: Not What We Were Looking For. There are MAJOR difficulties with turning NWWWLF into a place that will support humans, and most of the explanation is in the first series. I’d recommend that you read that series, without a doubt, but you don’t HAVE to read it first.

2. Foreknowledge. Coming into this third book, second series, I quickly became aware of just how much more I knew about the situation than all of the characters, most particularly Thaddeus, the protagonist. Nothing for it; it’s like knowing that Anakin Skywalker is going to grow up to be Darth Vader. Even so, I wanted to reach into the world described, grab certain of the characters, and INSIST that they not go there and do that.

3. Suspense. Montgomery does not treat her readers to the draining experiences favored by an elderly gent with too many initials; namely to make a habit of creating compelling characters, and then defenestrating or decapitating them casually and frequently. However, she HAS killed mainline characters JUST enough that you can’t follow the story without some edge-of-your-seat time. It’s a feature; it’s not a bug. This is not the kind of suspense found in a cheap slasher movie, with cheap thrills provided by killers leaping out from behind the door. This suspense comes from not knowing whether the hero can pull his plan off, or will end the book incarcerated, alone, dead, or sent into exile without a towel.

4. The Bible and Rudyard Kipling. The series title, “Sons of Martha,” is taken from the Rudyard Kipling poem of the same name. It addresses the hard workers of the world, the engineers and grease-knuckled doers, who devote their lives to making sure that the powerful forces of nature and industry are harnessed. Kipling took his inspiration from an incident presented in the 10th chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Luke, in which the hard-working Martha chastises Jesus for allowing her younger sister to ignore all the dinner preparations. Kipling pretends that all who serve others in dark, dirty jobs are the spiritual children of Martha, condemned to labor while others play.


The characters. All of the players on the planet are descended from people from Earth, but there has been some differentiation. The ruling class is descended from settlers on Mars, an outcome not anticipated by the folks who set out on the mission. Beneath them are the people who came from Earth, and that class is further divided into those with Earth-normal physiology, and those with enhanced strength and senses, distinguished by a pair of horns growing from their heads; these are called ‘pan’. 

Further divisions have been created based on where the characters live, with a mostly-urban class, the WestHem farmers, those who split off and started a second settlement, and the unfortunate Sleepers. This last division consists of the original colonists, who are kept in suspended animation, and revived one at a time, solely to provide their skill-set to further the work of the settled classes. Think of them as frozen yogurt; except without the power.

The story. In previous installments, Peter Dawes, a young pan farmer, grows more resentful of the government men who invaded WestHem, and disarmed the population. He develops a plan to steal the blasters back, but is forced by his tyrannical father to take his nasty-but-charming-to-some brother Simon with him. Simon is killed on the otherwise successful expedition, and Peter is labeled an outlaw by the oppressive governor and his cadre. To avoid capture and prevent reprisals against his family, Peter flees to the outskirts of settled land, where his oldest brother has a farm. Things happen, but the event of primary significance is the discovery of a new territory being developed by some of the more adventurous settlers. 

As the story opens, Peter’s older brother Thaddeus must respond to a request/demand by Dietrich Bainbridge, the governor’s chief agricultural officer. Ostensibly, Bainbridge wants Thaddeus to come advise him on agricultural policy, but the threatening tone used shows that he will be used in some way to atone for Peter’s actions, or at least be punished for them.

Maxwell, a friend and imitator of the deceased nasty-but-charming-to-some Simon, will also be going to the palace, where they will have contact with the beautiful Harriet, Maxwell’s cousin and target of Dietrich’s affections.

Despite my muttering “Do Not Go To That Treacherous Man, He Hates You And Has A Horrible Plan For Your Life,” Thaddeus proceeds, as he has managed to extract a promise from Dietrich that he can access the library, as well as the computer network.

And things develop.



Conflicts over class distinctions, and access to technology, provide the structure for the story, but the individual players do all the driving. This is NOT a gadget story; it’s a people story. The main characters become alive, as Montgomery gives us access to their thoughts, and thus, WE never have any confusion about the reasons for their actions. Sometimes they are confused about each other, a truth of human nature. It makes them real.


Again unlike the hyper-initialed gent, Montgomery ONLY leaves the overall story development unresolved, while closing out, quite nicely, the human interest conflicts and alliances that are the primary allure of these works. 

My conclusion.

I often find myself disgusted by the paucity of interest in the work of a gifted author, and that is DEFINITELY the case with Montgomery’s work. Her works should be on best-seller lists! It is probably an unavoidable consequence of the open field made possible by indie status and Amazon publication practices. In a field of hundreds of books, it’s tough to get noticed, even if a majority of the other works are dreck written by silly people who don’t know how to use punctuation, much less write a coherent and compelling story. 
I console myself somewhat by recalling that in decades past, when publishing houses had a stranglehold on what reached the consumer, an artist like Montgomery might have had nothing more than a few boxes of rejected manuscripts. At LEAST, her work is available, and I can but hope that at some point, she, and other talented writers like her, will get the recognition they deserve. It’s ONE of the reasons I write reviews.

Peace be on your household.

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