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Publisher's Summary

It is the present day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking, and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: The Civil War never occurred.
A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshal Service. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four". On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right - with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.
A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation and works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child, who may be Victor's salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all - though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.
Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four - secrets the government will preserve at any cost.
Underground Airlines is a groundbreaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we'd like to believe.
©2016 Ben Winters (P)2016 Hachette Audio
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Critic Reviews

"Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We're all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer." (Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore)
"A daring and very well constructed novel." (Booklist)
"The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around - and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten." (Hugh Howey, New York Times best-selling author of Wool)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Joel on 02-04-17

Great Setting, So-So Story

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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11 of 11 people found this review helpful


By Kenneth J. Katschke on 07-11-16

Interesting what if...

Imagine a USA without a civil war and slavery was still legal in 2016. This is the premise of Underground Airlines. It's an interesting way to frame and examine racism today and how it may not be all that far removed from that distant past, and it's intimate connection. The story is like a crime novel, and it moves along nicely. I recommend the story.

William DeMerrit is excellent. Each character is uniquely and expertly performed. I look forward to hearing his other work.

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11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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