Below the surface

Gregory Mone’s ‘Atlantis: The Brink of War’ tells the tale of two worlds.

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Gregory Mone immerses us in another world — or two worlds really — in “Atlantis: The Brink of War.” It’s actually the collision of the under- and above-water worlds that propel the story forward. In his wildly imaginative sequel to “Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion” for middle-grade readers on up, Mone opens with a bullet point update to the president of the U.S. from the National Security Agency, after it debriefed 12-year-old Lewis and 15-year-old Hanna on their return from Atlantis. The underwater civilization mistakenly believes their trip had been an invasion to steal their technology, as the above-water civilization has already been poisoning their waters, making it hard for the Atlanteans to survive. The memo serves as the perfect vehicle for the backstory, which includes how Lewis and Hanna had returned with the help of an Atlantean girl, Kaya, in a stolen warship, and that Lewis’ father — who had been on the trip — remained captive. The backstory also notes that Atlantis is responsible for the devastating tsunamis that have plagued the world’s coasts.

We soon discover that the Atlantis High Council will be voting on whether to attack the Sun People’s upper world — which would be earth as we know it, but in the future. The youthful trio gets tangled up in circumstances again, racing to return the stolen Atlantean warship in time, they hope, to help stave off the attack. Lewis wants to rescue his father, and Kaya is eager to return home.

What ensues is a nail-biting adventure with many unexpected twists and turns, bad characters, shifting allegiances, and heroic acts. Mone fills the tale with plenty of fabulous technology as well. In addition to being a novelist, Mone uses his science writing knowledge to base some of the objects on truth, which he outlines in the back of the book, after the story. 

But it’s not just the inspired sci-fi, fantasy elements that make “The Brink of War” so engaging, but the characters. Kaya, for instance, loves things about the surface, including the people. She reflects, “No, the Sun People weren’t all perfect. But neither were the Atlanteans … She needed to protect Atlantis. Absolutely. But she didn’t want the Sun People to be harmed. Kaya had to bring the two worlds together. And soon.”

Perhaps the most endearing character is Lewis. Although Mone deftly interweaves amusing humor throughout his narrative, a lot of it is around Lewis and his quirky way of thinking. About his returning to Atlantis to save his father, Mone writes, “He already had his backpack stowed in the warship, stuffed with plenty of snacks. He’d also jammed in an awesome silver wig … The Atlanteans had weird hair; this wig would help him fit in.” He would include Hanna on the mission as well as Navy SEALs, “but he’d have them dress in actual seal costumes, with whiskers and everything, so they wouldn’t terrify the Atlanteans. He’d bring his harmonica, too. If there were any tense moments in Atlantis, Lewis could play, and the SEALs could dance.” (Turns out, Lewis’s performing skills are key in a moment of crisis … but you’ll have to read the book to find out.)

Mone says that living on the Vineyard gave him the idea for the series. “I was picking up plastic on the beach one day, and thought, If Atlantis really existed, they’d probably be pretty mad at us for what we’re doing to the oceans,” the author said. About the three friends, he said, “I often don’t start with a perfectly clear idea of the characters. I put them in tense, difficult situations and kind of spontaneously see how they react, and as a result, you say, Oh, that’s who this character is. They’re stubborn, or they’re driven, or a little bit strange, and stumble their way through scenarios. I eventually refined them.”

It’s not just the characters but the relationship between them that strikes at our hearts. Mone says, “Family is one of the themes that runs throughout both the books. It doesn’t have to be a traditional family, it’s the people you love and care about.” He reflects on the book’s release this spring, saying, “It was an awkward time for it to come out, in terms of an actual, horrible war, but at the same time, I’m happy with the message that these things should be avoidable.” 

The kids’ yearning to get the adults from each world to come to the table to start talking has a deep resonance for the times we are living in.

Mone says, “These books are meant to be entertaining but intelligent diversions.” Luckily for us, they hit the mark.

Gregory Mone will be speaking on a panel about writing prequels and sequels at Islanders Write on Sunday, July 31, at 11 am.

“Atlantis: The Brink of War,” by Gregory Mone, $17.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes, and online.