Thursday Review: THE FOG DIVER by Joel Ross

Check it out–no whitewashing here!

Synopsis: The Fog Diver was this year’s Cybils Award winner for Elementary and Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction, and I’ve been intending to read it for several months now—so when it won the Cybils I made a particular point of getting to it. And I am so glad I did, because this one was yet another MG spec fic that I want to hug (like last year’s finalist title The Greenglass House, which I also loved). Joel Ross’s post-post-apocalyptic world, with humans relegated to living on mountaintops and hot-air-balloon platforms in order to stay off the earth’s tainted surface, is vivid, creative, and really intriguing, but it’s the characters—who can resist a plucky cast of young misfits?—that make this one sing.

Chess, the narrator, is a thirteen-year-old fog diver, and he’s the best there is. Expert at descending via tether into the treacherous nanite Fog, he scavenges useful items from the time before the human-created microscopic nanobots went rogue all over the planet’s surface. Successful scavenging means survival for Chess and his fellow balloon crew members Swedish, Bea, and Hazel, who live in the floating slums outside the mountaintop city of Rooftop. But now their search for loots is even more desperate: their caretaker, Mrs. E, has finally succumbed to fogsickness. Their only hope is to salvage something valuable enough that they can buy passage to the rebel city of Port Oro, hostile to the Rooftop’s ruler Lord Kodoc but rumored to have a cure for the fogsick.

Observations: This was an exciting adventure that not only had excellent, creative world-building (super intriguing for me, because I’m also writing a post-post-apocalyptic story right now) but also characters I really cared about and wanted to see prevail. This is another story about the family you choose, or that chooses you: Mrs. E rescued all four of the crew as children and has been raising them and caring for them, and they have the love and loyalty of a family. Each one has his or her own special talent, bringing something unique to the group and making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Hazel is a natural leader; Chess is their talented fog diver, the nanites trapped in his eye giving him special skills; Bea is a genius gearhead, keeping their balloon ship running through thick and thin; and Swedish is a crack pilot.

And of course they will all have to use their unique skills to their utmost in order to succeed in their quest to help their foster mother without even worse disasters befalling them: Lord Kodoc’s evil eye has landed on them—specifically, on Chess—giving their mission an even more desperate edge as they battle mutineer pirates (airship pirates!!), relentless Rooftop guards, and Lord Kodoc himself.

Conclusion: This book was packed with fun details rendering our own world in slightly skewed fashion and reminding the reader that this world was once the one we live in: for instance, the ancient story of Skywalker Trek, a battle between the Klingons and the Jedi. And, of course, the sometimes-inexplicable items Chess finds during his forays down to the surface. Those are the kinds of details I love, and will surely appeal to fans of Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines (reviewed here) and other post-apocalyptic sci-fi that has a strong thread of the fantastical. I also couldn’t help thinking it would make a GREAT Miyazaki movie (along the lines of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind)—hint hint! I look forward to the next book. Another not-so-subtle hint.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library’s ebook collection. You can find THE FOG DIVER by Joel Ross at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

About the author

Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a writer, artist, editor, graphic designer, professor of humanities, and localization QA tester, so she wears a teetering pile of hats. On any given day, she is very tired. She is the author of the middle grade graphic novel Alexis vs. Summer Vacation, and three YA novels, including the award-winning The Latte Rebellion.


  1. It is so good! I was scared to read it because certain (VERY MINOR) details reminded me of my WIP and that always makes me worry that It's Been Done. But it is a totally different story, of course. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the review, Sarah!

    And I know what you mean about the fear of Been Done. I'd just finished the second (by which I mean nineteenth) draft of Fog Diver when I saw the cover of The Sky Jumpers …


  3. Joel, thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment! I am excited to read more about Chess–not that I'm rushing you or anything (says the person who has been working on draft 1.5 for the past 2 years)… 🙂

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