Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Underground Airlines” as Want to Read:
Underground Airlines
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Underground Airlines

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  24,420 ratings  ·  3,346 reviews
A young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service in exchange for his freedom. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that s ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 5th 2016 by Mulholland Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Underground Airlines, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Olivia Newton I saw Castle through the unreliable eyes of his brother, Victor. Did Castle really know more than he knew or was that projected on to him by his broth…moreI saw Castle through the unreliable eyes of his brother, Victor. Did Castle really know more than he knew or was that projected on to him by his brother later on? The role that Castle played was to provide Victor an imagination that there would be a life for him outside of the farm other than being a slave. He told Victor that he would be eating a hotdog in Chicago and he told Victor stories. The childhood love between them fueled Victor to escape and to believe his life outside of the one he knew. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  24,420 ratings  ·  3,346 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Underground Airlines
Jennifer Masterson
Jul 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Alright so I'm DNF'ing this and giving it 2.5 rounded up to 3 Stars. I listened to 60% and had a hard time staying with the story. I'm not sure why but it's just not doing it for me. There are too many references to pop culture. I mean Michael Jackson, Norman Rockwell and James Brown? Well James Brown was suppose to have defected to Europe. It's too far fetched for me. This is about slavery still in existence because the Civil War never happened. I wanted it to be something it wasn't.

It started
Aug 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just imagine for a moment an establishment spook and modern slave wrapped into one, pressed into service to hunt down and reel back in other escaped slaves, and you've got yourself a tracker right out of the bad old days of pre-civil war. A black man forced to do the devil's work.

Now imagine him in our modern world, where the American Civil War had ended in an economic truce and slavery is alive and well and made so very efficient.

Hell, just imagine how easy it'd be to track down every slave w
Armed with a tempting and provocatively high concept plot, this new novel shot it's way to the top of my reading list for the year. This is a mystery novel that begs to be read, about an alternate present-day where the Civil War never happened, and slavery still exists in four Southern states, and about a freed black agent for the Federal Marshalls that infiltrates abolitionist cells to track down runaway slaves. I felt obligated to read it, to at least see where the concept goes from there. But ...more
Elyse Walters
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Library ebook- overdrive:
The beginning grabbed me right away. The narrator...( didn't know his name for awhile, but it's Victor) - was sitting in a cafe diner with a younger man: a priest, 'Father Barton'. The dialogue between these two men is sly-covert-conniving - and gut wrenching sad. Victor was once a slave. The Priest: we wanted to punch him in the guts.
So... the narrator: Victor - a Chamaeleon of sorts, with different disguise wigs, names, identities...is a contractor/ bounty hunter, f
Jan 20, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa-usa, 2016, alt-history
Talk about a depressing idea for an alternate-history book. This one explores the concept of what would have happened if the United States had never abolished slavery, and it remains an institution in the present day. *sigh* Well, at least Hitler didn’t win the war this time…

Victor is a former slave who managed to escape to the north, but he was eventually caught by the government and forced to work undercover to help catch more poor souls who are trying to use the fabled Underground Airline to
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
It has been years since I have seen the movie Blade Runner, but as I was reading this I kept saying to myself, for some reason this reminds me of Blade Runner. Then, I started describing the book to a co-worker (and I didn’t tell him about what it reminded me of) and the first thing he said is “Sounds like Blade Runner”. So, I guess I was not too far off! (I did recently read the book that Blade Runner is based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? so maybe that contributed to it).

Another thi
Mogsy (MMOGC)
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/07/11/...

I became a fan of Ben H. Winters back in 2012 when I first picked up his novel The Last Policeman. Since then, I’ve been following his work, subsequently reading Countdown City as well as World of Trouble as they were released. Together, those three books make up what I think is one of the most tragically underrated series I’ve ever read. So of course when I heard about Underground Airlines, I just knew I had to read it.

Oct 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had been rather resistant to the idea of reading Underground Airlines. First, because of the author (did I really want to read a novel about slavery written by a white author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from a POV of a black person?). Second, because it was hard for me to imagine a present day America where slavery could still exist (you know, some speculative premises are just too out there sometimes). But Slate writers kept talking about it, so I decided to give Ben H. Winters ...more
Althea Ann
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Winters' 'Last Policeman' trilogy, so when I heard about his newest book; I picked it up right away, even knowing nothing about it. After reading - I think Winters has surpassed himself. This book is even better.

As the book's blurbs lets us know, this is an alternate history, set in a present-day United States where the Civil War never happened. In this reality, there are still "Slave" and "Free" states, and of course, there are still runaways - and fugitive slave catchers. Unsu
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes it's possible, just barely possible, to imagine a version of this world different from the existing one, a world in which there is true justice, heroic honesty, a clear perception possessed by each individual about how to treat all the others. Sometimes I swear I could see it, glittering in the pavement, glowing between the words in a stranger's sentence, a green, impossible vision--the world as it was meant to be, like a mist around the world as it is.

Wow. Everything about this book w
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Underground Airlines was a good concept but I thought the execution was off. It tells of a world in which the civil war never happened and slavery still exists in several southern states. It should have been a slam dunk but I just never really felt engrossed in the story and I think that might be because the author is white. I'm not saying white authors can't or shouldn't write characters of color but I think its harder for a white person to understand and accurately write about the black experi ...more
Jessica J.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I know that there’s been some is it his story to tell? conversation about whether or not a white author should be writing about the plight of a black character—and that conversation has its merit. But I’m giving this 4.5 stars because the construction of this story was just so good that I could not stop reading it. I took it with me on a flight to Denver for work. After five hours of travel, and a couple hours in the hotel bar waiting for my coworkers to be ready for dinner, I was very nearly do ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I don't usually read alternate history but when I saw this book from an author I had previously enjoyed, I decided to give it a try. It is present day America, minus one Civil War. Gradually the majority of the southern states have gotten rid of slavery, but four holdouts still use slaves. The central story is Victor, a bounty hunter on the trail of Jackdaw that takes him to Indianapolis. He has long worked for the US Marshall Service, but he also grew up on a plantation as a child.

I think most
I received a copy of this ARC from the bookstore I am employed at.

Jesus H.

Meet Victor. At least, that’s what he tells us his name his. It could be Jim Dirkson. It could be something else; he’s got a lot of aliases. Victor is a cunning black man working for a powerful government agency that hunts down runaway slaves and returns them to their masters. The year is 2012 (I think…I’m still a little gray on that detail), and the Hard Four—four states in which slavery still exists—continue to build a r
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
An interesting, vomit-inducing thought experiment of what the US could be if there had never been a civil war and slavery had been enshrined in the Constitution for some states. Sickening idea, though sad thing is, having extremely cheap labour is not a crazy idea: look at all the cheap items we can buy, made by people making a poor wage, versus items made for a fair wage. And mistreating workers -- workers' rights is still a very recent thing in human history. And, finally, designating a group ...more
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Underground Airlines

By Ben H Winters

I found “Underground Airlines” to be an interesting novel that drifts between speculative fiction and noir. Victor the protagonist is a contractor for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

The story is an alternative historical where slavery was not completely abolished, but still exists in the “Hard States” (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Carolina). The story is broken into three (3) parts.

Part 1 (North), about 2/3rds of the book.

Victor is in Indianapolis t
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-read, favorites
Ever since I read Ben Winters' pre-apocalyptic mystery-thriller The Last Policeman trilogy (The Last Policeman, Countdown City and World of Trouble) I have been something of a fanboy for this speculative fiction author. When I learned that his first published book after The Last Policeman was going to be called Underground Airlines, set in an alternate history of an America where slavery persists to the 21st century and a modern analogue to the Civil War era Underground Railroad exists I was VER ...more
Nov 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Jim, a 40 year old black man who has escaped from slavery, is tearfully trying to convince a priest, Father Barton, to help him free his wife. But his name isn't Jim (he goes by Victor, but that isn't his name either), he doesn't have a wife and its the present day, not the 1800s. In this terrific alternative history thriller there was no Civil War and Lincoln did not free the slaves. Slavery is still legal in four southern states. Victor works in the north as an agent of the U.S. Marshals Servi ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 Stars
What would the world look like if the civil war never took place and slavery was still a thing?

I tend to really enjoy alternate reality books especially given the historical references and timeline. Our narrator (who touts multiple names) is living in the North, doing a job he loathes, but it pays the bills. We slowly figure out what it is "Victor" is hunting and it left me with a sick feeling in my gut. Along the way, we meet a myriad of characters including a white Martha and her mixe
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
It's a rare book that fascinates me enough to read it twice in one week but this is one of those books. It was both interesting and gave me a lot to think about.

This book is set in an alternate version of the U.S. where Lincoln was assassinated and the Civil War didn't happen. Because of this slavery still exists in the "Hard Four" states. Victor, or whatever name he happens to be going by, is a U.S. Marshall whose job it is to track down escaped slaves. At the beginning of this book we have Vic
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Underground Airlines may work as an allegory about our society’s troubled relationship with race, our issues with corrupt and/or gridlocked government, and, of course, our tendency to bow down to our corporate overlords – but, as a story? I never quite bought it.

This novel has a high concept premise: what if the Civil War had never happened? What would America look like today? That’s a fascinating question. It’s what made me pick up the book. But – aside from slavery still existing in four state
Amanda Mae
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you've seen the mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, you're already a little primed for this novel. This dystopian America where slavery still exists in some states is chilling in not only its accuracy to how slavery in this country was in the past, but also the repercussions and ramifications we face in both our reality and that of the book. They aren't called slaves, but People Bound to Labor, or PBs, or peebs. Technology has allowed to near total control of these enslave ...more
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this almost all in one go on the way home from my parents yesterday. I think this book got overshadowed a bit due to being released so close to The Underground Railroad and a similar theme. They are very different and despite all the awards Railroad garnered I think I liked this one better.

Thanks to my good friend Sarah Anne for the recommendation:-)
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was not sure what to expect when this came out last year. I waited a long time for it to come to overdrive in my library. Eventually I grabbed it with a credit at audible. I must say first of all that I loved this narrator, he managed several distinct characters male and female. He did an amazing job. I think I read somewhere that this is his first foray into audiobooks.

The story is about an alternate world set in America where slavery was not abolished in the whole country. It was strange at
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Having been a finalist for Goodreads' Best Science Fiction book of 2016, I am really glad I read this. Very creative alternate fiction. Set in modern day America, the Civil War never happened and slavery remains the law of the land in four Southern states. The black protagonist works as a contractor for the U.S. Marshals, tracking down escaped slaves, despite his own background. His current assignment seems "off", and he finds himself embroiled in a major society changing drama. Meanwhile, despi ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
Jan 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1-have, library, cultural
Victor/Jim/Brother is a contracted, owned bounty hunter, a tracker, by any and all names. He is a black man, forced into hunting black men. This is set in the present day. The catch is that our present day is not as we know it to be. The Civil War never took place, and even though slavery was finally abolished, there are still 4 states in the United States, called the Hard Four, that still condone and practice slavery.

This story relates one such case for Victor, tracking a run away slave, and t
Karrie Miner
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book and I wanted it to create a dialogue about racism. It got some wonderful reviews from independent booksellers, but it just wasn't great. The writing was mediocre and the story was choppy. My favorite parts were the ones that delved into the affects of racism, but it felt exactly like the racism of today. Maybe that is the point, but I doubt it... Kind of disappointing. ...more
2.5 stars...I generously rounded it up to 3.

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Consider the fact that I started reading this book in September. It took me almost 4 months to finish it. Why?? Because the book is approximately 125 pages too long. I cannot stand wasting my time on books that do not deliver. Yet, I do not want to add to my will-not-finish shelf so I took my time and pushed through. It was not until this week when I got past the first 125 pages when I realized that there may actually be an interesting story wi
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Impressive on so many levels. Creative, artistic, well written, with an authenticity that I found both a surprise and a relief. I was nearly 300 pages in, still marveling at how uncontrived a work of fiction (bordering on SciFi) could be. He did a masterful job of creating a believable world of make believe. There are layers to this novel that are sure to be hashed out in book groups for years to come. Definitely worth reading. And that, in spite of the ARC having so many typos it was distractin ...more
Anne Hershewe
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
I listened to most of this audiobook during a weekend trip that involved a fair amount of driving. Overall, I enjoyed the story itself but many things nagged at me throughout the book, and it took me several days to process them. Hence, this belated and lengthy (for me) review.

Winters has reimagined the US as a place that never had a civil war and ultimately enshrined slavery in the Constitution. The reader is guided through this world by Victor, a former slave who now works with the US Marshals
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Singer Distance
  • The Arctic Event (Covert-One, #7)
  • Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America
  • Code Name: Omega (Jameson Force Security, #10)
  • The Ophelia Network
  • The Boatbuilder
  • Gutshot Straight (Shake Bouchon, #1)
  • The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive
  • Cyclogeography - Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier
  • The Dream Builders
  • The Copenhagen Papers
  • When They Tell You To Be Good: A Memoir
  • American War
  • The Revivalists
  • French Rhapsody
  • Small Town Sins
  • I'm Following You
  • The World We Make (Great Cities, #2)
See similar books…
See top shelves…

Articles featuring this book

Need another excuse to go to the bookstore this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
38 likes · 13 comments
“It is a strange kind of fire, the fire of self-righteousness, which gives us such pleasure by its warmth but does so little to banish the darkness.” 20 likes
“Sometimes it's possible, just barely possible, to imagine a version of this world different from the existing one, a world in which there is true justice, heroic honesty, a clear perception possessed by each individual about how to treat all the others. Sometimes I swear I could see it, glittering in the pavement, glowing between the words in a stranger's sentence, a green, impossible vision--the world as it was meant to be, like a mist around the world as it is.” 13 likes
More quotes…