Cover image for The light at the bottom of the world
The light at the bottom of the world
First edition.
Physical Description:
311 pages ; 24 cm
Great Britain, the last days of the twenty-first century. Sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth. Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the London Submersible Marathon, she sees is an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. When the race takes an unexpected turn, Leyla will have to defy a corrupt government, deal with a hotheaded companion, and risk capture-- or worse.


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In the last days of thetwenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trappedin the abyss, humankind wavers between fear and hope-fear of what lurks in thedepths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to thesurface.

When sixteen-year-oldsubmersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the city's prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, whohas been arrested on false charges. The Prime Minister promises the championwhatever their heart desires. But the race takes an unexpected turn, forcingLeyla to make an impossible choice.

Now she must braveunfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep itssecrets, all the while dealing with a guarded, hotheaded companion she neverasked for in the first place. If Leyla fails to discover the truths at theheart of her world, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture-or worse.And her father will be lost to her forever.

Author Notes

London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Afghan descent. Shelives in London, via England's beautiful North. When she's not busy reimaginingthe past, plotting an alternate present, or dreaming up a surreal future, she'smost likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes,strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an eveningin the city's older, darker alleyways (preferably just after it's rained), listeningto punk rock, or losing herself in a fab sci-fi/fantasy film or book. If shecould have only one superpower, it would be to breathe underwater.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up--The year: 2099. The place: London. Only, this is a London completely unfamiliar to readers. After a devastating disaster 65 years ago, the entire world has been left under a thousand feet of water. All of surviving humanity has adjusted as well as possible, living inside air-tight homes, driving submarine vehicles, and hoping for the day they can return to the surface world. Enter 16-year-old Leyla McQueen, a British Muslim of Afghan descent desperately fighting to have her scientist father freed from a government prison. So when she wins a coveted spot in the London Submersible Marathon, the grand prize of which is the champion's greatest desire, Leyla knows this is her best shot. But when the events of the race lead to an adventure greater than Leyla could ever have imagined, will she be prepared to do whatever it takes to see her father again? Shah's debut is a fast-paced masterpiece from start to finish. Readers will fall in love with passionate, persistent Leyla as well as her secretive, swoon-worthy companion Ari. While the tropes of dystopian fiction--corrupt government, fear of the unknown--will be easily recognizable by fans of the genre, Shah has skillfully shaped a gorgeous world unlike any those fans have seen before. But be forewarned: the book ends on a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger, so a sequel is presumably forthcoming. VERDICT An #OwnVoices title for fans of Rhoda Belleza, Amie Kaufman, and Roshani Chokshi. Highly recommended.--Kaitlin Frick, New York Public Library

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this thrilling postapocalyptic tale set in 2099, after civilization was forced underwater by global flooding, a young Muslim woman searches for her unjustly imprisoned father amid the remnants of Great Britain. British-Afghan Leyla McQueen, 16, a champion submersible racer, hopes to free her father (jailed for "aiding and abetting citizen suicides" among sufferers of an underwater malaise called "the seasickness") by winning the prestigious London Submersible Marathon. When that hope doesn't pay off, she sets out into the treacherous ocean to find him herself, accompanied by Ari, a mysterious young man sent by her grandfather to protect her. Despite Leyla's insistence that she doesn't need any help, the waters are filled with enemies, including the genetically engineered Anthropoids who prey upon humans, and the authorities who want to prevent Leyla and Ari from discovering the truths hidden in the dark depths of a drowned world. Shah's strong debut, first in a planned duology, is vividly described and emotionally rich. Despite predictable plot points and an insufficiently explained underwater setting, the strong premise and underlying sense of excitement make this a fast-paced, wholly enjoyable adventure. Ages 12--up. Agent: Rebecca Podos, Rees Literary Agency. (Oct.)

Kirkus Review

In 2099, London is underwater.Sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a Muslim submersible racer, will stop at nothing to find her father, Hashem, who has been arrested and charged with encouraging "seasickness sufferers to take their lives." When she is picked as an entrant in the London Submersible Marathon, Leyla is determined to win and ask the prime minister for her father's freedom. But things do not go as planned, and when Leyla learns that her father is not really being detained in London as she'd been told, she leaves, evading the Blackwatch security forces who are kept busy overseeing New Year's celebrations. Leyla, along with unwanted partner Ari, the son of a family friend, must drive her submersible through waters she has never before navigated. Along the way, she learns that she must question the statements of a corrupt government, as themes in the story echo issues in the present day. Debut novelist Shah vividly describes a world below the ocean's surface, evoking people's nostalgia for the Old World, when Great Britain lay aboveground. Leyla's character grows and changes over the course of her journey, her love and loyalty toward her family only growing stronger. Leyla is Pashtun and of Afghan heritage; diversity in the book reflects that of contemporary London.This thrilling journey packed with unexpected discoveries will leave readers eager for plot resolutions in the next installment. (Science fiction. 12-17) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Sixty-five years ago, Leyla's world was above the waterline. But in 2099, the earth has drowned and the people with it. Leyla lives alone with her father, an astronomer, and she makes ends meet by competing in sub races around famous London landmarks. Or she did until her papa was arrested for terrible crimes she's certain he didn't commit. Running out of time, running out of money, and coming up empty on answers, Leyla determines to find and rescue him herself. When she discovers a whole underwater world, her life gets much more interesting and dangerous than she ever imagined it could be. While the book seems to end on a firm note, there could easily be more stories in this undersea dystopian world. Shah's prose sometimes turns melodramatic ( Hope had abandoned them to the wrath of all the waters ), but this is a fine postapocalyptic novel that hits a timely note with its climate-change narrative. A solid purchase for large collections.--Stacey Comfort Copyright 2010 Booklist