I read this book in support of the author. She's a prominent poster on Absolute Write, and her posts often make me think and applaud. It often happens where my main interest in a book is the support of its author, not the story itself.
So that's how I came into this book. Try as I might, I'm not really a sci-fi fan. Except in my love of Star Trek. I've never really been able to develop a sci-fi passion outside of Star Trek. Probably has something to do with my parents taking one-year-old me to a Trekkie convention and meeting Jonathan Frakes (the one childhood memory I wish I could remember).
Josin L. McQuein has another book coming out this year, October's Premeditated, a contemporary revenge thriller that is more up my alley than Arclight was. So earlier this year I bought Arclight hoping it would give me a taste of the awesome to come in that book.
And yeah, Premeditated will be awesome, if Arclight has anything to show for it. Arclight itself? Well... it was awesome, too. In a sense.
This is a very unique book. It isn't your typical YA sci-fi. Hell, it isn't your typical YA. This book has more to say than any other YA sci-fi I've ever read. It isn't just a surface-deep action adventure, although there's plenty of action. This is a book that appears to be one thing, appears to show the world in one light, but the further you read, the more layers are peeled back. This is a book that speaks volumes on war and indoctrination and race relations, and how different groups can be hated -- and murdered -- just for misconceptions and lies spread by their enemies. This book is brave and scary and deep.
But this book is also unclear.
I felt that McQuein's writing could have benefitted from more tell and less show, the opposite of my prescription for most writers. Often, especially in the first half of the book, the reader is left to flounder. It's hard to ground yourself in what's happening because the prose can be so very murky. Rather than tell you that a certain character is another character's brother, four or five hints at a close relationship are dropped within a chapter and it's up to you to gather the facts and figure it out. Sometimes a hundred words are used to show you something that could have been easier summed up by a quick sentence or aside.
The Fade, the creepy-as-hell race of monsters who terrorize the humans who live in the Arclight, are amazing creatures. When we don't know much about them, they're surrounded by this awesome aura of creeptasticness. And when we do learn more about them, when the layers of the story unfold, they're revealed to be an amazingly unique race of people that I'm really impressed with McQuein for imagining. The problem lies between those two states, though. The Fade in the beginning take an awful long time to develop from scary, mysterious monsters into concrete beings that we can see and understand. Point A and Point B are great, but stringing the two together, we get confused and muddled in how we're supposed to be imagining these things.
The main character, Marina, was actually a superbly written protagonist -- blank and dull in the beginning, but there's a reason for this that makes the whole book worth it. I didn't guess the twist in this character at all (but then, I'm notoriously bad for guessing twists, so your mileage may vary here). Other characters were not so well realized, though. Tobin was a complete throw-away of a love interest. Too perfect, too loving, not really well-described enough for me to tell you anything about what he looks like or what his personality is like. And -- this was a real WTF moment for me -- in the beginning he beats a boy almost to death for insulting Marina, and... this is okay with everybody. The boy spends the rest of the book in the hospital with nary another mention, and no one EVER turns on Tobin for this or punishes him in any way. WTF?
So this book does amazingly well on a concept and philosophy level, and the science here is pretty sound, too. Scores on the clarity and characterization, though, are disappointingly low.
Will I read the sequel? Mmm... maybe.
Will I read other books by Josin? Hell yeah.