This review originally appeared on WorldOfJoel.com
After reading Ben H. Winters trilogy, The Last Policeman, I became cautiously optimistic about his latest venture Underground Airlines. On the surface, it's a novel that takes place in an alternative history where the Civil War didn't take place, and slavery wasn't abolished. Instead, it was relegated to four southern states. To avoid war a new set of amendments were added to the constitution that made it impossible to abolish slavery without basically disbanding the entire constitution. A compromise to avoid the Civil War.
Underground Airlines, similar to Winters past trilogy, at times falls victim to its lofty setting. I found myself far more interested in the alternative version of reality than the plight of Victor, the stories main character. Without spoiling anything, Victor is in charge of tracking down runaway slaves who are trying to escape via the "underground airlines." With a very successful track record, Victor is set to find Jackdaw, the latest runaway, but he realizes really quick that this isn't the typical case.
I never really became part of Team Victor. Winters still doesn't do much with character development, instead leans heavier into the setting and the world than in the mystery of the case. At times I actually wondered if this book would have been better off as just a straight alternative history, instead of a mystery/thriller set in an alternative history. I will say though that you could still make some interesting parallels into the real world and this fictitious world that was quite biting.
As much as I love the setting, the actual moment to moment story and characters fell flat. It felt a lot like the first novel in The Last Policeman where it wasn't until later books that you ever really cared about any of the characters. Underground Airlines ended up being a solid story in a fascinating world.
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