A sequel carries a lot of weight. Unlike the first in a series, tasked with setting the groundwork for the world we are about to inhabit as readers, the sequel is expected to have relatively less worldbuilding or, at least, more casual confidence in introducing further details of the universe wherein the story takes place. Also, readers expect a sequel to not simply be another tale; they expect a continuation of the larger story. We want twists, we want the stakes to be raised, things to get darker, and the heroes to become more steely. Think of it this way, we want a sequel to be more The Empire Strikes Back than Temple of Doom.
Saying all this is meant to ground your expectations for Matt Hebert’s follow-up to Beneath the Surface—Breaking the Surface. This sequel is almost entirely action. Hebert is able to write both close quarters fight scenes and larger battles with a deft intensity, while always furthering and deepening his plot. Readers will find that Hebert choreographs scenes in such a manner that it is quite easy to visualize them while still being wow-ed. Parallel to this, is Breaking the Surface‘s larger purpose in furthering Hebert’s story. Our heroes discover that there are all sorts of rebels, and every faction has their own motivations and interests. Making this conflict within conflict real is the success of Breaking the Surface, we like the protagonist Sembado, discover just how complicated things are, how morally challenging decision making is, and how to steel oneself to stay the course while preserving one’s beliefs.
Factions and the stakes rise in this sequel with the anti-government Elephants to which our hero Sembado belongs and government being joined with a group calling themselves the Spring. The Spring’s goal is stated when Sem experiences an all too brief reunion with friends as a prisoner, “We intend to end the fighting…We are interested in peace. We will pursue that singularly.” Here is an example of Hebert introducing the very real splintering that occurs during civil conflicts.
In fact, one could say the whole of the novel is to ratchet up the pressure these deep sea dwellers feel every moment of every day. Breaking the Surface is almost entirely action at a speed that revs up the anxiety in readers. Lovers of action adventure sci-fi should be well pleased. But it isn’t just simple conflict, Hebert creates a world where those in control have become domineering in the application of a utilitarian formula that is intrinsically inhuman. The government, personified by the strongman Fabian, stakes out this position of terror, “You all know that my predecessors eradicated millions…Hundreds of millions of random civilians for the greater good. The greater good. Earth could live on so that our grandchildren would have a viable planet of their own. What a majestic dream. What a terrible to decision to have to make; and yet, here we are, part of the surviving few. We are those grandchildren.” And yet, the madness of this is very close to the reactionary libertarianism of the Elephants and the fury of the Spring. We are seeing a people who are all guilty, and we are desperate to see how justice is effected. In this sense, the Surface series is as problematic and compelling as the Hunger Games series.
Hebert’s follow-up is tighter and moves with an ease and speed one would expect of a much more experienced author–something that can only bode well for future installments of the Surface series. The relationship between characters grows organically and is as compelling as the divisions, unions, and complications that arise between the factions of the novel. Although, Breaking the Surface is a continuation of the series and ends leaving readers eager for the next, it can be read without having knowledge of the first book. This is a strength because it allows readers to engage with the story as they see fit but in no way detracts or confuses. All in all, Breaking the Surface is solid follow-up, a superb action novel, and a compelling addition to the series.
Matt Hebert, an architectural engineering graduate of the University of Nebraska, lives in Omaha with his wife, Gabriella, and their two dogs. Matt first realized his love of writing fiction at age five when he would use his family’s Smith-Corona Word Processor to create characters and worlds to share with others. Through interests and hobbies including chicken keeping and carpentry his passion for writing has never wavered. Matt started Beneath the Surface in 2004, during his junior year at Bellevue West High School where he pulled inspiration from the unique architecture and surroundings.