Book Review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Berkley (July 9, 2019)
Length: 320 pages
After reading the description for Salvation Day, I thought I had a good idea of what I was in for: a futuristic sci-fi horror, with an outbreak scenario, maybe even possibly some crossover into zombie territory. I think I was picturing something like Dead Space in my mind. Well, what the book actually turned out to be was something quite different, though the story still ended up being a thrilling and cinematic experience.
Around a decade ago, the space exploration vessel House of Wisdom became abandoned after a deadly infectious virus was released on board, killing everyone on the ship. The sole survivor was a boy, Jaswinder Bhattacharya, the son of a very prominent family in the political and scientific community. Subsequently adopted by his aunt, Jas spent the next ten years pretending he could not remember what happened on the House of Wisdom and has tried to keep a low profile ever since. Meanwhile, the spaceship, which has become massive tomb, is left drifting in space guarded by drone missiles that would destroy anything that dared approach.
Now older, Jas is about to embark on his first journey back into space since the incident, along with a small group of his friends and fellow students. But unbeknownst to him, he is the key to a plan hatched up by a cult who want to use his genetic signature to bypass the security measures guarding House of Wisdom, which they mean to transform into a new home for their people. Zahra is one of the members of this cult, acting upon the orders of their leader Adam. She and her team were supposed to hijack Jas’ shuttle and kidnap the young man, forcing him to help them access the ship. No one was supposed to get hurt, or at least that was Zahra’s original understanding. But not long after they took over of the shuttle, everything started going wrong. Not surprisingly, when they reach the House of Wisdom, they also find bodies. However, what Zahra finds disturbing is not the presence of the dead, but the way that they died, which does not appear consistent with what was reported by the government. She and her team had been inoculated against the virus that supposedly killed everyone, but the threat they are faced with is something else entirely.
The story is told via two main perspectives—Zahra and Jas. Kali Wallace does a fantastic job balancing their POVs, giving readers enough background into her characters’ lives so we can sympathize with them and understand what drives them. Despite them being very different and having conflicting motives, I felt connected to both protagonists. It’s hard to say whose chapters I enjoyed following more, as I thought their lives were equally fascinating to read about. And once Zahra and Jas realized that they would be better off working together to survive, that’s when the character development and relationship dynamics grew even more intriguing.
As I said before, the way the story is presented is also very cinematic, and there were certain scenes that made me feel like I was watching a movie. Periodically, bits and pieces of conversation and reports from the House of Wisdom passengers’ last moments are also injected into the narrative, heightening the tensions and spooky atmosphere aboard the derelict ship. In addition, the world-building helps set Salvation Day apart from other sci-fi offerings that feature similar themes. The politics of this world are complex, involving a complete restructuring of the society following an apocalyptic event. Spawned in the aftermath of the collapse are a number of different government factions, resistance organizations, displaced refugees and other outsider groups like cults and extremist movements. All these opposing forces have created uncertain conditions and unique challenges in people’s lives.
Then there are the more pressing, immediate threats facing our characters once they make it aboard the House of Wisdom. Hidden agendas, betrayals, and secrets help keep the plot engaging, as if the dangers around them and the possibility of being infected with a deadly parasite weren’t enough. I honestly didn’t expect much from this book beyond the virus angle, but as the story gradually expanded in scope, I was drawn into a plot that was way more nuanced than I had originally thought, and I ended up being quite satisfied with the crux and conclusion.
At the end of the day, I would recommend Salvation Day if you enjoy sci-fi thrillers with a touch of horror, and I thought Kali Wallace did an especially good job at the creating an atmosphere of suspense and claustrophobia! Glad I took the chance on this one.