After finding out certain uncomfortable truths at the end of Earthfall: Retribution, Sam Riley and his friends think they know everything. They think Earth has simply been caught in the middle of an interstellar war between the Voidborn and the Illuminate, and that mankind is an irrelevant part of an epic battle that has spanned the galaxy for millennia. They believe they have survived the zombification that has rendered the rest of humanity inert because they have been experimented upon in preparation for this moment. They barely know the half of it.
Having barely recovered from the last foiled Voidborn attack, humanity suddenly faces an even worse foe. The Primarch has arrived in orbit of Earth, but he is not a new threat. Indeed, he is the main threat, the one behind Earthfall, and with the planet on its metaphorical knees, the time is right for him to reveal his endgame, and bring it to fruition. To defeat him once and for all, Sam and his friends must embrace the Illuminate technology they have been gifted – but to do so, and to win, will not be without sacrifice.
The stakes were already so high in the previous two Earthfall books that Mark Walden would always struggle to raise them much higher without making it practically impossible for his half-dozen mortal human heroes to succeed (to defeat an entire alien menace established to be nigh on unstoppable) in convincing fashion. As such Sam and his friends really do become reliant on outside help, in a two parts Iron Man to one part Power Rangers kind of way, and the humanity does get quite lost at times.
Fast-paced and filmic, with set pieces that could be levels of a video game (there are definite similarities with the Resistance games), this series has clearly been aimed at perhaps more reluctant readers, especially teenage boys who could easily be distracted by 101 other things. On that level, it’s a success, regardless of whether there’s anything particularly original here or not.
Teenager Sam Riley and the other conscious survivors of the human race have captured one of the motherships of the Voidborn – they just have no idea how they managed to do it. The invading aliens may have disappeared from London for now, but when they come back they will know what they are up against. In the meantime, however, the human resistance enjoys a brief respite from battle, time in which they can try and learn what the Voidborn are, and also try to figure out how to wake up a whole city of zombified people.
Then Sam and the others pick up a transmission – a human voice – and it’s not an automated one. Tracing the source to Edinburgh, Sam leads a mission to find out who else is out there, immune to the control of the Voidborn. Before they find them, however, they have a whole city of ravenous black-eyed primal beasts to contend with. The Voidborn apparently still have some dastardly tricks up their extraterrestrial sleeves, but they might not be the only threat the human survivors have to worry about.
Without the baggage of having to account for the fall of mankind – and then account for how Sam manages to survive on his own – before getting to the juicy part of the story, this sequel is a faster but also more evenly paced adventure than the first Earthfall book. Once again it’s full of secrets, intrigue, double-crosses, last-minute escapes and heroic rescues. Sometimes all but the central characters disappear amidst all the fevered plot shenanigans.
Earthfall: Retribution is also darker than the first part. Not all the enemies encountered are unequivocally evil, and the more Sam and his friends understand, the less straightforward everything becomes. The book ends on a cliffhanger, setting up the inevitable – and hopefully barnstorming – conclusion about the final battle for Earth.
One day Sam Riley is a normal teenager being goaded to tidy his room. The next he is on the run and hiding in sewers after the rest of humanity slips into a vegetative state – up and walking, but completely unresponsive. Meanwhile there are now flying metal jellyfish-like creatures patrolling the skies over London, and they may well be looking for Sam.
Sam eventually discovers he is not the last conscious remnant of the human race, and runs into a group of other teenagers much like himself – except these ones seem to have military training, and rocket launchers to go with it. Joining them in a hidden underground shelter, Sam learns of their little guerrilla war against the alien invaders, which they call the Threat. Some of those in the shelter, however, have been keeping a devastating secret since before the Threat first arrived.
At times Earthfall reads like the ultimate piece of fan fiction. It proudly wears its influences like a succession of band T-shirts. Giant round alien spacecraft settling over key locations in all the world’s cities reminded me of Independence Day. Semi-robotic flying drones with lethal tendrils reminded me of War of the Worlds. And Doctor Who has been making cheap monsters out of zombified humans for decades.
What it lacks in originality it makes up for with a fast-paced story packed with expertly crafted action scenes. You can tell Mark Walden has a background in video games. The book is perfect for distracted teenage boys or any other reluctant readers more likely to switch on a movie than pick up a book. I see a second installment comes out soon, which I will be checking out.