When Sam goes missing, her friend Alex is determined to find her. He enlists his friend and sometimes roommate Nails to help. Their search takes them far beyond the meagre comfort of their crumbling apartment. In fact, it takes them right into the heart of an underworld populated by the Alvar and teeming with Aether. But their mission isn’t as simple as finding a way into the Alvar world and asking for a missing person. Deep mistrust between the Alvar and humans has been brewing for generations. Alex and Nails have no real social traction with the Folk who populate the illicit underground towns called Thundertowns, so they turn to a corrupt political system in hopes of helping Sam.
Senator Loisaida is the first in what hopefully will be a long line of Alvar who are able to connect both to the human world and the Alvar world. She has been elected to represent a population of Alvar amongst the human courts. This gives her immense responsibility, as well as political and social leverage. Alex and Nails hope that working with her will help them find Sam and many other humans who have gone missing in various Thundertowns in recent weeks. Their efforts at times bring them into the orbit of a man who calls himself Kijkaan and who seems to maliciously misinterpret requests for help connecting to the Aetheric-filled underground world.
When a series of new tunnels connecting the above ground human world and the underground Alvar world threaten chaos, Alex, Nails, Sam, and Loisaida will have to find a way to keep the peace.
Lord of Thunderdown utterly failed to engage me as a reader. One of the biggest issues I had with the book was how extraordinarily poorly this noir-ish fantasy world was described. My best understanding is that the world is divided into “above ground” and “below ground” realms; humans primarily occupy the former and…not humans primarily occupy the latter. Cieri seems to describe the nonhuman entities as Alvar, trasgo, and Folk without clarifying what (if any) distinctions there are between them. All I could really figure out was that the non-humans, by and large, lived underground and could apply “glamour” to themselves to appear more human-like, but the purpose of this glamour was never clarified. The big “conflict” in the book seemed to be that this apparent segregation between humans and non-humans meant the non-humans were living subpar lives underground. Yet the issue of equality seems to take a backseat to the MCs traipsing around underground areas and being ignored because they’re humans looking for more humans who got lost underground. Confused? Yeah, me too. It also didn’t help that Cieri never really explained the use of “Thundertown.” The title of the book made me think this was a story about a person from a place. However, the actual usage was mixed. Sometimes the characters referred to “Thundertown” as a generic name for any Alvar/trasgo/Folk underground community, sometimes they referred to “Thundertown” as one specific such community.
The book has an extremely large cast of characters. Our four main characters are Sam, Alex, Nails, and Loisaida. In addition to these four, an Alvar/tasgo/Folk character named Kijkaan acts as a main foil to the four MCs’ efforts to find all the missing humans stuck underground. Then, there are the dozen or so various other supporting characters who just seem to take up space. On the one hand, I really enjoy side characters who are not solely included because the plot demands them. On the other hand, it was difficult to keep the dozen or so named extras straight (four or five were missing persons to whom Sam had a connection, the rest were acquaintances of Alex and Nails) and none of them seemed to serve any real function other than to pad scenes and add drama for other side characters. A character named Sheldon aka Magi, for example, seemed to have an interest in the Aether, which…well, I was never really clear what the Aether really did beyond give people headaches, but it seems to be associated with the Alvar/trasgo/Folk population and Sheldon was interested in studying how to manipulate it. This character’s whole purpose seemed to boil down to correcting people on how the Aether could be used to animate objects and that Aether was not just a spell. But we got to know all about his living situation and his girlfriend, etc.
Finally, I felt Cieri struggled to clearly represent the characters as any stripe of LGBTQ. It wasn’t until chapter 9 out of 15 that we get any inkling that Alex might be gay and it was presented on-page in a clumsy exchange between Alex and his mother. Jobless and having been kicked out of his apartment, Alex moves back home with his mother. Alex tells his mother something about Nails and Mom responds by asking if Nails is Alex’s boyfriend. And that is the beginning and end of any discussion about Alex’s sexuality. Conversely, there is a brief section where Nails seems to come to the realization that he might have romantic feelings for Alex…and after the brief paragraphs where he has these thoughts, they are never revisited. Apparently, Sam acts like a lesbian, whatever that means (and the annoying Bonnie character often chides Sam by calling her “Sa-MAN-tha” which seems rude on many levels). For me, this treatment of the characters’ sexualities was just astoundingly awkward and, frankly, pointless given the lack of any romantic threads in the story.
I thought the plot lacked clarity and direction. Details like what “Thundertown” is and who else occupies this fictional world apart from humans were poorly explained. The various main characters all had different goals, which further seemed to obfuscate the main plot line(s) in the story. Overall, I would not recommend this book.