Book Review: ‘Earth has Fallen: Return from Darkness’ by Peter Servidio

Author: Peter Servidio

Self-Published in 2021

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Written by author Peter Servidio, Earth has Fallen: Return from Darkness is a dystopian science fiction novella set on Earth after the world has seemingly been destroyed due to nuclear war. The story follows protagonist Loreto and his community at Emery Deep…but are they really the last humans?

From the set up of this novella and the details included in the writing, I got the impression that Servidio really enjoys the world building aspect of storytelling. Indeed one of the strengths of Return from Darkness is its world building. Straight away the reader is given a very thorough description of Earth’s new history and a lot of information about what life is now like for survivors. This made it very easy for me to instantly visualise the world I was reading about.

There are strong themes of entrapment and escape throughout Return from Darkness. I believe I am correct in saying that these themes link to Sevidio’s work with the Department of Corrections in the United States. The story’s two main locations, Emery Deep and Elysium, both feature communities with long-established regimes and structures in order to ensure the survival of the people living there. Although Emery Deep is underground and thus physically restricting, I got the sense that it was mental and emotional freedom Loreto was seeking. By becoming a Topsider, Loreto’s fulfils both his feelings of wanting to be free and his dreams of seeing the surface. By contrast, it was when Loreto encountered the Ashwalkers and found Elysium that I felt his need to escape the physical boundaries and limitations he was contained by.

Personally I preferred the first half of the story when Loreto is in Emery Deep completing his Topsider training to the Elysium storyline in the second half. The plot had a steady pace in the first half with one event naturally leading to the next. The second half was more frenetic with the story jumping from plot-point to plot-point. For example when Loreto finds the trapdoor and Elysium’s history, the discovery unintentionally feels convenient because there has been no build up to reach the information.

Due to the radiation many of Emery Deep’s inhabitants are described to have physical and mental disabilities. Loreto only has a very minor disability in the form of a single knuckle on one of his little fingers. As a result Loreto is “not weak in body and mind, as are many who are alive today”. Again this is only my personal opinion but I believe the story would have been more impactful if Loreto had had a more pronounced disability and was still shown to be the strong and capable character he is…rather than being strong and capable because he is not like the other inhabitants.

There was the occasional spelling error in the novella but these did not impact the story, with the exception of chapter ten where one of the character’s names accidentally changes twice.

(EDIT: Since the publication of my original review on Reedsy Discovery, this error has been corrected)

Perhaps this is my proofreading brain kicking in but, a word choice of concern was when the inhabitants on Emery Deep were described as: “born with malfunctions such as extra or missing limbs, large tumors, missing eyes, and many other deformities”. As “malfunctions” refers to machines and not to people I can only assume that that this was confused for the word “malformations”.

Although this doesn’t directly impact the entertainment of the story itself another somewhat confusing element is Loreto’s age. Chapter 1 explains that the members of Emery Deep are given their society roles at eighteen years old, yet in Chapter 3 Loreto joins the Topsiders when he is seventeen. The timeline at the end of the novella however states that Loreto was born in Year 49 and met Atilla (on the surface) in Year 60 – which would make Loreto eleven years old for the majority of the novella. This is something that is easily fixed and it did not stop me from enjoying the story.

I have mixed feelings about Earth has Fallen: Return from Darkness. There are definitely some good aspects to the story but also areas, like the pacing, that could be improved on. The novella actually ends on a strong plot twist so I will remain hopeful for the second instalment in the series.

The images featured in this review have been kindly provided by Peter Servidio. For more information about the author, check out Peter’s website.

‘Earth had Fallen: Return from Darkness’ was published on Reedsy Discovery in October 2021. A shorter version of this review is also available on Discovery’s website.

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