Living in a colony under Table Mountain, 16 year old Ebba, accepts that her life is to work along with the thousands of other children with a vague promise that some of them will be the new generation to populate the post-apocolyptic world. Others who are thought to be defective, will be sacrificed. Unexpectedly she is elevated to the outside world and discovers the meaning of the birthmark on her arm and the amulet she wears. Her freedom comes at a price and she is thrust into a position where she must make choices. Choices that will affect her friends and the world as she knows it.
Helen’s novel is a fast, exciting read full of the ecological concerns that are so often captured in post-apocalyptic fiction today. In the middle of this is a young woman who, like most teenagers and many adults, finds herself in a world that’s so much bigger and more complicated than she realised. And she can’t just live in it; she has a responsibility to try to understand it and change it for the better. It’s a scenario that raises all sorts of tough questions.
Lauren SmithLauren Smith
From the first page, the reader is drawn into a rapidly evolving story, where the protagonist must make complex moral choices as she navigates the emotional tides of desire and learns who to trust and how to read the as new rules of this hierarchical society where some must still hide their true identities to survive. In the genre of Can she learn to manipulate her power to her favour? What is the meaning of her birthmark? Can she make sense of her mysterious past to forge her future and save her world?
As the first of a trilogy, this novel promises many adventures to look forward to. I’ll be waiting to see where Ebba and her troupes take us next!
Loving AuntLoving Aunt
Extract from Elevation by Helen Brain
Major Zungu is there to meet us. He’s terrifying. He’s in charge of all the soldiers who guard us, and he’s obviously going to oversee the sacrifice.
How will they do it? Will it be over quickly? My heart is thudding with fear as he gives a signal and six soldiers fall in line next to us. Then they march us down the gloomy tunnel while the worship team dances ahead, their bells jingling as they wave their arms and leap and turn, thanking Prospiroh for giving us the chance to sacrifice ourselves for the good of all we love.
I search the walls and roof for a way to escape, but I’m wasting my time. Like the rest of the bunker this passage is carved out of solid rock, with armed soldiers guarding the exits. They’re not going to kill us down here, in the colony, or our decomposing bodies will bring diseases. They must be taking us somewhere where they can throw us out. I decide to be cooperative for now. It’s my only chance at surviving.
The High Priest and the General come bustling past, and we press ourselves against the walls and bow our heads. The High Priest gives my necklace a sidelong glance and then they hurry on down to the end of the passage.
I wonder if they made Micah walk this corridor when they took him away. Micah, the black-haired Year Three who asked a million question, and wouldn’t do as he was told. I’ll never forget how it felt when he kissed me. They took him the next day, and we never came back.
Maybe I’ll meet up with him again, in the afterlife. It’s a small comfort in the unbearably long trudge to the end of the corridor.
We reach the end at last. The High Priest and General have disappeared into the Elevator and three soldiers are pushing on the wheel, grunting with effort. We’re not going in the Elevator. They take us down a short passage to the left, and we stop at a grey metal door.
The worship leaders end their hymn. I’m expecting some sort of farewell, some verbose affirmation that we are heroes of the faith, but they’ve lost interest. They blow out our candles and take them from us. Then Major Zungu opens the door and gestures to us with his gun. ‘Go.’
We’re on a metal staircase that runs up the inside of the round shaft. I hold onto the handrail and look over the edge. The sleeping cells, washing areas, composting and water storage tanks are below us. I look up. It stretches forever, flight after flight clinging to the rockface like a bean plant creeping up a growing frame. At the very top there’s a tiny square of blue, the size of my fingernail.
I’ve finally seen the sky.
My soldier nudges me with his gun. ‘Hurry up!’
I follow the others up the stairs. Fourteen steps then a sharp turn and up the next fourteen. A turn, another flight. I trudge on, holding up the hem of the white robe that threatens to trip me up. Nobody is talking, but I’ve had it. We’re going to die anyway, so we may as well break the rules.
‘Where are you taking us?’ I ask the soldier keeping pace with me, step by step.
He is stony faced. Not a flicker crosses his face.
‘Where are we going?’ I say, louder this time. Still nothing.
I’m trying to work it out for myself. I try and recall everything we learned about the Colony in education. It’s buried deep inside Table Mountain. The top part of the mountain is sandstone. The lower half is granite. Hard, impenetrable granite. That’s where they built the bunker, where we’d be completely safe.
We’ve climbed 6 flights so far and I’m getting out of breath. By my reckoning we’ve passed the weaving galleries and the plant rooms where we grow the food. That’s as high as we’re allowed to go. Above that are the out of bound areas – the storage galleries, then the army barracks and the High Priest’s galleries. Above that is nothing just but six hundred meters of solid sandstone, with a web of ventilation tunnels running through them.
‘That’s the storage gallery through there, right?’ I ask the soldier as we reach another metal door opening onto a landing.
‘Shutup,’ he snarls.
Shameema, the girl with the broken elbow, is in front of me. ‘What are you going to do with us?’ she says, cradling her arm. ‘Are you going to shoot us?’
‘They wouldn’t waste their bullets,’ Jaco says wryly, looking back at us. ‘They’re probably going to throw us over the edge of the mountain.’
‘I said Shuddup,’ my soldier snaps. ‘Get in there.’ Major Zungu has opened the door. We step into a low, narrow corridor. The end is flooded in light. Daylight. Real light, not refracted through mirrors and skylights.
It’s when the gust of wind hits us that we realise where we are.
‘We’re in one of the side shafts,’ Jaco exclaims.
‘They’re going to open the end and shove us out,’ Shameema says. Her voice cracks.
‘But we’re not at the top yet,’ one of the Year Fives says. ‘Maybe we won’t fall far.’
I can hear the hope in her voice, but she’s forgotten how high Table Mountain is. I try to imagine what it will be like if by some chance I do survive the fall. Everything is dead out there. No plants, no people, just ash and burned rock.
We reach the end, and two soldiers are struggling with the bolts that hold the thick metal grille over the end of the shaft. Shameema is sobbing, and I put my arm around her. Jaco hugs us both. The three Year Fives huddle together, sniffing.
‘This damned bolt is jammed,’ one of the soldiers grumbles, hitting it with the butt of his rifle.
But it comes undone suddenly, and the grille clangs to the floor. A blast of dust and dried leaves swirl inside. Major Zungu grabs one of the Year Fives and shoves her towards the opening. She gives a sharp scream that ends abruptly as she drops out of sight. I clutch Shameema and Jaco. My mouth is filling with saliva. I’m going to vomit.
Now Major Zungu has the second Year Five girl. Tears are streaming down her face and she wrestles with him. It’s futile. I look away as he bashes her head against the wall, and tosses her out before she can crumple at his feet.
‘Please, Prospiroh,’ I pray, desperately wringing my hands together. ‘Lord Prospiroh, I have been faithful to you. I’ve worked hard for you. Save me. Please save me.’
‘The Witch next,’ Major Zungu snaps. ‘Red haired bitch.’ He pulls me away from Jaco and Shameema.
‘No!’ I screech, digging my heels into the floor.
Major Zungu takes me by the shoulders and shoves me to the edge of the tunnel. I cling onto the metal rim. I’m teetering on the edge. Below are rocks. Bare rocks and two blood splattered, white robed bodies. I clutch the rim, resisting him with everything I have.
Suddenly there are footsteps running up the passage behind us. ‘Change of orders,’ a soldier bellows and Major Zungu lets go of me. With a gasp I fall backwards into the passage.
‘High Priest wants to see the witch,’ the soldier says.
Major Zungu pulls me to my feet. ‘Get up,’ he snarls. ‘She’s all yours, Captain Atherton. Enjoy.’ He leers as he shoves me towards the strange soldier who is out of breath from running so fast.
Jaco and Shameema look terrified as Captain Atherton marches me past them. They’re thinking the same as I am – the High Priest has chosen a special kind of death for me. Probably something more agonising. Something more suitable to a female born with the curse of the red hair.
Captain Atherton takes me back to the stairwell. We keep climbing. It’s endless. I’m exhausted. If they’re going to kill me, I wish they’d just do it, instead of wearing me out bit by bit. But the rectangle of sky is getting bigger, the natural light is creeping into the stairwell and I focus on the beautiful clear blue, the single puffy cloud. At least I got to see the sky, I think wryly.
There’s a speck in the sky. It’s a bird. I blink. Did I really see it? I can’t have. Nothing can live on the surface of the Earth. They told us so.
At last we reach the top. Above me is a huge transparent roof. And above it, the sky. The beautiful azure sky. Captain Atherton bashes on a red metal door, and it’s opened from outside.
I’m in a room, facing a huge window. I rush over and peer out. Is it true … is everything destroyed?
The whole of Table Island City lies below me. The sky sweeps down and meets the brilliant blue green ocean. Below me is mountain, but it’s not blackened and burnt. Instead there are bushes, scrubby plants scattered between the rocks. I can even see a few dashes of yellow and pink. Flowers, I think. I’ve seen flowers at last.
The world is bigger, more wonderful, more overwhelming than I ever imagined. My eyes fill with tears. Thank you, thank you, I pray. Thank you Lord Prospiroh for showing me this.
I’m so busy gathering every detail that I don’t notice a second door opening.
‘You’re a lucky girl,’ a voice says behind me. I turn quickly. A strange man stands there, wearing a bright blue robe. He’s middle aged, well fed, and smiling broadly.
‘Yeah, right,’ I say. ‘Lucky old me, getting a glimpse of the world before you kill me.’
He takes both my hands in his.
‘My dear Ebba,’ he says. ‘We found you in the nick of time. You’re the missing den Eeden heiress. You’re not being sacrificed, you’re being Elevated. I’m here to take you home.’