TITLE: Underground Airlines
AUTHOR: Ben H. Winters
The title isn't literal. It refers to the modern equivalent of the underground railroad that sneaked escaped slaves from the American south to freedom in the north. In the alternate reality Winters imagines, Lincoln was assassinated before he took office, compromise prevented the Civil War, and in the present there remain the Hard Four states where slavery is still legal. Victor is an escaped slave who's been forced to work with the US Marshals to hunt down other escaped slaves. All Victor cares about is himself. All he wants is to remain free, or the semblance of freedom that marks his life, the ability to move around the non-slave states, staying in nice hotels, eating good food, and trying to not think about the tracker inbedded in his spine. But his latest case, to find a runaway slave called Jackdaw who reportedly is hiding in Indianapolis turns out to not be the routine assignment he'd thought, and the things he learns cause him to question what he knows about the country and himself.
This novel works on many levels, but mostly, it's a personal journey for Victor and an incredibly relevant commentary on the state of the US today. The provocative title caught my attention in the bookstore, the blurb made me buy it, and the words inside lead me to highly recommend it.