Jennifer's Book Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein
When Arclight begins, it’s during the middle of an attack. The reader is instantly thrown into a scene of teens being rushed to a safe area, while the adults work to deflect the enemy – the Fade. “This is why I like YA fiction,” I think to myself. No opening chapters of needless exposition, no long drawn out backstory. Instead, we have instant action, and I figure the author will throw us information quickly as we need it along the way.
But I was wrong; we don’t get information along the way. In fact, it’s not until halfway through the novel that we find out who the Fade are, and we begin to get a few hints about where the main character, Marina, comes from. Marina’s own story doesn’t become apparent until even later. In the first half of the book, we blindly run from point A to point B with a little bit of romance thrown in. All we know is that the world has been taken over by the Fade, whatever they are (Ghosts? Zombies? Vampires? Ghouls? All of the above?), and that the Fade dislike light. Because of this, Marina and her compatriots live in Arclight, an area in which darkness never sets in. Lights surround the compound, and everyone knows it’s not safe to go beyond them, into the Grey, where dark and light meet, or into the Dark, where the Fade live.
So how does Marina fit into this story? Marina is a teen girl who is new to Arclight, a sign that the world outside still harbors humans other than those in Arclight. Several of Arclight’s adults were lost in an effort to rescue Marina from the Dark when she was spotted, a circumstance for which many of her fellow teens blame her. And many people believe the ramped up attacks (or at least scouts) from Fade on the compound have something to do with her. Marina doesn’t know herself – she remembers nothing from before waking up in Arclight’s medical center.
And the Fade? They’re stronger than five men, they can blend into their surroundings, and they dislike the light. Until exactly halfway through the book, this is all the reader knows about the Fade. Why they’re attacking, what they look like, etc., are mysteries. However, once the secret is revealed, the story instantly becomes less paranormal/dystopian buildup and more science fiction. (Spoiler: nanites and medical experiments gone wrong.) Yet as some secrets are revealed, more are discovered: The motives and history of Arclight’s leader, Honoria, come under scrutiny, and Marina is tasked with finding a missing Fade girl, Cherish, by a captive Fade. Not all is as it seems, and the book makes strong cases for not judging others for their ancestors’ actions, and for not attacking before all the facts are known.
In the final third of the book, the building romance between Marina and an Arclight teen ends up becoming a love triangle between Marina, the Arclight boy and a Fade boy. It’s surprisingly sweet, although I was rather disappointed with Marina’s ultimate choice.
If the first half of the book weren’t so darn slow, I’d say this was a good read. However, it’s over-long by nearly 100 of its 402 pages, and my initial reaction of “yay, no long, drawn out exposition” was instantly proven wrong by having absolutely NO explanation for so long. Reading about characters stumbling from one crisis to the next gets tiring after a while, and I just kept turning the page in the hopes I could find out what the heck was going on. That being said, this would still be an enjoyable book for teens who are looking for a new book that varies from the current trends of dystopian/vampires/werewolves/etc.