Something Down There by Nancy Widrew is an imaginative fantasy novel of a world that exists very near our everyday real world. Rather than exploring outer space or an alternative universe, the setting in this novel is a cave. Karen and Jeremy are amateur spelunkers, Jeremy a much more enthusiastic one than Karen. For Karen to reluctantly follow Jeremy into Dinky Cave, Jeremy had to promise total dedication of the next few weekends to Karen’s whims. As the two progressed ever downward in the cave, they met Sara and George, a couple ascending the cave’s slopes as they prepared to go home. The couple mentioned that if Karen and Jeremy were to follow the tunnel a bit further, they would discover a waterfall. Jeremy agreed. When the two arrived at the waterfall, they were met by Rahm and Rachel. They promised to give Jeremy and Karen a brief tour of nearby cave attractions. The world of Jeremy and Karen was about to be turned literally upside down.
Just as with the Hotel California, “you can enter anytime but you can never leave,” Jeremy and Karen had entered an underground world populated by seven adults and two children that were very different from the world on the surface. The core underground population could not survive inside the civilization that existed on the surface. Each of the characters had a fatal flaw that doomed development of a normal life. Rahm, the leader along with wife Rachel had identified several flawed people and invited them to a better world that existed deep inside Dinky Cave, one four levels deeper than a usual cave exploration fan would go. Rahm, Rachel, Janet, Mary, Helene, David, and Brian along with Janet’s two children, Randy and Jon, had built an almost self-sufficient society that rarely had to interact with the world above for supplies. If special supplies were needed, Rahm, as a leader, would make occasional trips to the top.
There was one scarce resource that Rahm could not easily find: more group members. His idea was that the group might increase by birth. For some reason, the births either did not happen or the resultant births were not satisfactory. The only two children were boys. The group needed women who could give birth. Janet’s first son, Randy, was growing up normally. Jon, however, had a few problems. With a rat-like face and a somewhat translucent body, he was hard to look at. Either you could see through his skin to all his organs or he would appear entirely skeletal. The group needed new blood. Rahm chose Karen and Jeremy.
Karen and Jeremy felt like prisoners because they were. Rahm insisted that the group consist of willing members. Once outsiders petitioned the group for acceptance, the entire core group voted on membership. Until Jeremy and Karen became members, others of the group would watch them closely. The two would have few privileges and they would be assigned daily tasks which they could not refuse to perform. No work, no food. Some of their food was from the outside world but their main diet was supplemented with fish, mushrooms and insect life found below ground.
Prolonged living below ground had changed the core group lifestyle in a way difficult for Karen and Jeremy to accept. Candles provided the main source of light; a secondary source was phosphorescence from cave minerals. This was difficult for Karen and Jeremy. To navigate the dark passages, the core group developed a system of “echolocation,” a system that had to be learned. No one was going to teach Jeremy and Karen the system until they became members and could be trusted to not escape.
This is a tale of the Stockholm Syndrome. In a period of prolonged activity, will the captives form a relationship with their captors? In this story we have two captives. What if one succumbs to the syndrome and the other doesn’t? This is also a story of social relationships in a closed group. What do the people do each day? How do they react with stresses and solve problems? In this group Rahm is the leader. The membership has elected him leader each year. He solves problems and assigns tasks. Not all agree with his solutions and then someone must vigorously enforce his decisions. Ask Tom, Janet’s husband. Nope, can’t do that. Tom is dead. One can’t ask Louise, Tom’s girlfriend, she is dead also. Eugene, husband to Louise, can’t speak up either (also dead). There must be order in the community; Rahm is there to provide it.
This is an entertaining comfort read up to about the three-quarter point. Widrew constructs a complex alternative world while keeping it interesting by describing the physical description of the world with emotional stressors of its environment. After the three-quarter point the pace picks up and the story draws the reader even more into Jeremy and Karen’s plans for escape. The ending may surprise some, as it did me. It is not a simple or obvious conclusion and is well worth reading the novel to know. I gave this five Amazon stars because of multiple unique plot twists. My attention was drawn to the book by the author. After reading the Amazon description, I read the book for free using Kindle Unlimited. The Amazon price is USD 6.99.