12 Miles Below
by Mark Arrows
The world is in ruins.
Extreme sub-zero temperatures suffocate the surface, making even simple survival an ordeal. Frozen derelicts of bygone eras span across massive ice wastes. And the elite few hoard any technology rediscovered within.
The only escape from the deadly climate is beneath the surface. But it’s another disaster underground. Monstrous machines lurk in the depths. Unhinged demigods war against them, dying over and over, treating it all like a game. The land itself shifts over time, more contraption than rock. And an ominous prophecy states that the key to everything waits at the last level - but nobody’s ever reached that far.
When an expedition into the far uncharted north goes terribly wrong, Keith Winterscar and his father get trapped together in a desperate fight for survival. Stumbling upon an ancient power struggle of titanic scale; the two will need to set their differences aside while they struggle against sinister gods, deadly legends, and the grand secrets of the realm that lies below.
Author's note: Updating Monday and Thursdays.
This is a long planned out fic. If you're looking for a power fantasy where the MC gets everything right all the time, this ain't it. Fights get hairy, people get greedy. Bad descisions happen on incomplete information - and I don't write fake-failures where those mistakes don't matter. When the whammy moments come, they'll be earned.
[Dungeon-lite and gamelit-lite, though both start being relevant much later.]
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Really interesting premise so far, I am extremely excited to see where this goes.
The first 12 chapters hint at a very rich world under everything, which to me usually means the author put some serious thought into worldbuilding and its consistency.
If the rest of the story contains the same quality as these first chapters, it will be an epic tale indeed!
I wanted to wait until he had a few more chapters up to write an advanced review, but after the content we've been given thus far, I don't doubt Mark Arrows' ability to deliver consistent quality going forwards. So here goes nothing!
Overall - I can't fault it. 12 Miles Below is a great fic to lose yourself in if you love sci-fi, lost tech, and mystery. It goes down well and has a great cast of characters.
Worth noting that Mark Arrows isn't afraid of testing his characters, making them fail, and having them make morally questionable decisions. If you like stories with faultless or overpowered protagonists, this ride ain't for you.
Setting - The setting is what stands out the most for me. Arrows has a knack for sprinkling in just enough information about the icy wastelands to keep us wanting more while holding enough back to cultivate a genuine sense of mystery about what's out there. Reading 12 Miles Below has me as excited to discover the secrets of the ice, the technology above and below it, and the surface dwellers as I was to learn more about the worms, fremen, and spice of Arrakis.
My favourite aspect of the setting is how the characters worship the misunderstood and forgotten tech and almost treat them and their users as gods and kings. Just read the chapter 'The Deathless' and you'll get what I mean. It's a believable piece of world-building that really pulls you into the story world.
Characters - The central family unit of Kieth, Kidra, and their father play off each other really well. Kieth is the idealist, their father is the pragmatist, and Kidra is somewhere in the middle (the glue that holds them together). They all have something to learn from each other (Kieth and his father above all) and thus far, the plot doesn't pull its punches in forcing them to confront their differences. It'll be a long and painful road, but the potential for character growth is huge.
Antagonists - This far, (at chapter 12) we've not delved too deeply into the 'traditional' antagonists. We've met Ankah, a proud, competitive woman from a different family who doesn't like Kidra or the Winterscar family. I'm sure she'll play a larger role in the future, but until then, Kieth's father serves as the primary 'antagonistic' force. Kieth's disagreements with his father are interesting enough to keep you engaged, and similar to Dune, the environment is an antagonist in its own right. I've been too busy paying attention to the world-building and the in-family conflict to notice a lack of 'traditional' antagonists/ villains.
Plot - We're in the first arc, so the plot hasn't exploded yet. However, the signs of an imminent eruption are there! The plot revolves around Kieth and his desire to understand forgotten tech so he can use it for the good of mankind. Of course, this goal is something his father disproves of because pursuing it would put Kieth in a different social caste (a big no-no in his father's worldview). As of chapter 12, Kieth's already made his fair share of mistakes and failures in his quest to achieve his goal, and it's already negatively impacted his family. The conflict is building and promises to lead to a fantastic finale.
Writing - It's clean and concise, which works well against the icy, barren, sci-fi backdrop. You won't find superfluous words and phrases here, and the grammar/ punctuation errors are minimal and don't detract from the story.
Above average writing, which is pretty impressive considering the short upload schedule. Story feels a little like Dune, or Mortal Engines, and i mean that in the best way. Excited to see how the Dungeon and Gamelit tags effect the story.
Isn't anything TOO crazy yet but has a lot of potential depending on where the story goes from here.
Anyone looking for a post-apocalyptic future story should absolutely give this one a go. It's got that perfect mix of calm and tension for a group of people trying to survive in a world that previous generations have made inhospitable to them.
The writing is clear and engaging, with enough personality that we have a clear idea of what kind of a person the narrator is, but not so much as to be distracting. I found myself sympathetic to his goals and actions even when he's being an idiot, and that's hard to do. If you're going to give it a go, read to the second chapter at least -- the first is kind of fluffy and unnecessary, but the second WILL hook you.
Grammar is perfectly serviceable. Not much to say about it. If there are egregious grammar or spelling errors, I didn't notice them. It reads perfectly well.
The story itself is a bit slow, but only because it's putting all its energy into developing the world and characters. As of chapter 7 (the latest chapter when I'm posting this), we don't know what the main plot of the story is yet, but boy do we have a lot of fascinating information about the characters, their world, and their politics. So far it's quite "slice of life but post-apocalyptic" and I LOVE that. The details of the scavenging priorities of this society, built on what their society is like and what tech they do and don't have access to, are particularly intriguing -- it's a very well-thought-out world. (I also love when characters are trying to conceive of our time based on the fragments they have left. There's this whole part there they find a painted interior wall at a scavenging site and are baffled by how much of a waste of paint it is and start speculating on where the owners could've gotten so much paint and why they'd wasted it on a wall, it's great.)
I am in love with these characters. Keith and Kidra have such little sibling/big sibling energy. These two and their relationship really carry the show and I would die for Kidra. Anyone who has a sibling will understand and love the MC and his sister immediately.
after beta-reading all 10 chapters thus far, i can confidently say that this is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels i've read. the characters really shine - the cast is not huge, but between the three winterscars and small handful of secondary characters, i find them all delightfully intriguing and easy to invest myself in. in addition, the world is fantastically thought out. i love the hints that something is hidden in the ruins and out on the ice, and i'm painfully anticipating the moment that everything is revealed.
i can't recommend this story enough and i'm excited to see how the plot plays out. consider me a fan. :)
Getting a first glimpse into the world of Keith and the Winterscars has been very interesting and exciting, and as such here is a slight review into the story so far.
The story and by extension author, have a very subtle touch for blending hint's of mystery in to the answers of questions that each chapter asks its reader to consider, always a good hint to a good story.
For the world building itself, it also gives a very realistic view towards the reasoning of cause and effect that the actions of the characters have on the greater environment around them, which is quite interesting to see in a story like this that has even the most simple of gestures causing unique situations overall.
As far as grammar goes for those interested the story is so fluently written that you should have no issue being able to dig into it with fear of misconstrued or odd ended sentences to make you guess as to what the scene is about.
Add all of these things to a cast of characters that you continue to want to learn about as the story continues and this frost bitten adventure has everything to keep you entertained until the next chapter is shared.
Like just look at the cover, it looks like its commisioned and its been out for what, 1 month? I can tell the author has everything well planned cuz he said so, already planning 40+ chapters ahead this is legitametely a bussin work. Read it you won't regret even if you gotta wait for it to finish up.
Having read the first 10 chapters I must say I really enjoyed discovering the universe that our main character and his crew live in: a frozen wasteland with some remnants of futuristic tech they can use but don't really understand.
The story leaves quite a few mysteries for the reader to wonder about, which no doubt our MC will ask for us as he's curious to the point he gets burnt (frozen?) for it. The surrounding cast seemed diverse and complex enough, especially the family unit. I'm eager to see what kind of other characters we'll encounter as various... surprising professions were mentioned. The setting pushes for a lot of tensions and survival through banditry so it's probably going to be a harsh story.
The style is good and flows well though it's a bit curt at times. The cold must be so freezing that the teeth clatter when telling the story I suppose! It makes the events quite riveting as the pace can get pretty fast.
The grammar was ok too, a few mistakes but nothing glaring.
Overall, I would recommend it, it seems to be rat-adjacent too with a MC who tries to exploit the system (available tech) and characters with well-defined goals.
I really like this story. The MC started somewhat naive, but he is young and inexperienced. So that fits.
The story is developing splendidly however. For me the pacing is good. No free rides here, but there is a constant sense that this is going somewhere. I'm always happy to see a new chapter land.
The worldbuilding and lore thus far is what really stands out I think. A world filled with quasi-magical post-apocalyptic tech worship. For all that they use fairly high tech the culture in which the MC originates is closer to a superstitious village from the middle ages than something resembling a technical society. Primarily because they do not understand most of the tech they use. The high technology artifacts they consume, which they do not understand, consigned to that ever tempting god-lives-here category where most things unknown so often comfortably finds a spot to fill.