In 2137, BathyTech 3 is a deep-sea mining facility, seven thousand meters below surface. An odd blip appears in Richards Deep, an uncharted trench. The miners and a group of scientists work together to figure out what the mysterious black rock is, but it defies instrumentation and sight, as though it weren’t really there. Add to that the sudden appearance of monstrous deep-sea creatures, rare and undocumented, and the setting is ready for exploration into horrors beyond imagining.
At first people start acting weird. Their eyes glow, their teeth turn to needles, and their fingers into tentacles. Violence in the extreme erupts all over the station. The few remaining survivors desperately struggle to learn the secrets of the rock before the whole world is plagued by the infection that changes humans into… something else.
Down is not a romance. This is pure science fiction survival horror where the protagonists just happen to be gay. All but one of the sex scenes happen off-page. And that single sex scene is twisted and weird, pretty much dubious consent, showcasing how far off the deep end they’ve all gone. So if you’re looking for sex or sensuality, erotic or romance, look elsewhere.
The main characters are Mo Rees, a miner, and Armin Savage-Hall, a scientist. Their personalities are quite different but their bond grows as the situation takes a turn for the worst. Their relationship baffled me. Like I said, this is not a romance. The initial connection between the two men, before everything spirals out of control, is figuring out they’re both gay, ready, and willing. The problem with casual sex being the spark between two protagonists is showing the subsequent relationship over the ten days the plot covers as deep and profound. Mo and Armin become a grounding force and comfort to one another as their insta-love deepens. Their strong sensual connection becomes a beacon of light and hope in an otherwise dark and deadly tale. But would they have had such a strong bond if their situation wasn’t so dire? I find it hard to believe. To me, their connection deepened too fast and felt unrealistic—if that can even be said with a futuristic horror story.
Regardless of how the main characters made me feel, the story shines. The writing is evocative and immersive, the plot twists show something new every couple of pages, and the pace keeps you firmly on the edge of your seat, turning pages constantly to find out what else could possibly go wrong. There’s a new discovery in every chapter. Ally Blue has written a story that’s almost cinematic in its approach, with lots of action, terrifying scenes, unseen dangers, horrible violence, and gruesome deaths. At times I felt like I was watching a movie, as Blue’s powerful, vivid writing awakened every scene before my eyes in stark details. This tale is truly scary.
The place is jam-packed with side characters, all fully fleshed with a couple of identifying personality traits, and that almost makes this an ensemble cast, where Mo and Armin are only a part of the group. There are in particular some pretty awesome women in charge of the station and security, and their levelheadedness was a joy to read. Knowing these people, their names and aspects of their lives, makes their deaths even more horrible. You will shed some tears when you aren’t busy biting your nails awaiting the next new revelation to turn your world upside down. Nonetheless, at times the dialogue about what was happening and what to do next could have been reduced, as some of it felt a bit repetitive, but these are scientists and they talk everything through before acting, so it made sense.
Spoiler alert! Proceed at your own discretion! [spoiler] Toward the end, it becomes apparent that the war against the powers of the rock is hopeless and lost. I would not call the almost apocalyptic end a HEA or even a HFN, so be forewarned. Don’t let your disappointment about the so-called romance between Mo and Armin deter you away from this awesome story, well worth the read if you discard some of your expectations of what constitutes a good ending for a romance versus a good ending for a story.[/spoiler]
Down is a science fiction horror story that is easy to recommend. The writing is well-executed, the plot is full of twists and turns, and the fears evoked are terrifying indeed. A claustrophobic environment plus frightening alien creatures, and you have quite a horror story in your hands. Not knowing what to fear—the monsters, the rock, your own people, or going insane—offers a lot to delve into. Make no mistake, the end will leave with you a whole bunch of unanswered questions and an uncertain future, but the story itself is complete. I highly recommend this as a watershed book where the main couple happens to be gay, but it has no bearing on the effectiveness of the plot. It’s strong stories like this that raise M/M stories toward mainstream literature.