True Light is a suspense thriller which asks the question: what if nearly every invention we rely on suddenly didn't work? Terri Blackstock has created a nightmare scenario where intermittent "pulses" from a supernova knock out all electricity, all over the planet. No vehicles (all electronic parts are fried and gasoline can't be refined or pumped without electricity). No phones (cell or land-lines). No computers. No running water or sewage (because the water treatment plants run on electricity). No refrigeration. No heat. And worst of all, no end in sight.
Now if this were science fiction, I, being a science geek extraordinaire, might balk at whether so many diversely-powered inventions could be affected by any one hypothetical phenomenon. However, this is not science fiction and therefore the premise must be given greater latitude. If you can suspend disbelief that such a thing could happen and just assume it did, then all the other details are frighteningly believable. In fact, I personally think American society's reaction to such a catastrophe would be much worse than described in this fictional tale (and worse than TV's Jericho, too, by the way). However, in all fairness, I must point out that True Light is the third book of the series and when it opens, this global "pulse" problem is already eight months old. So it is highly possible the picture Ms. Blackstock painted in the first book was indeed worse.
Speaking of the series, I should mention how distressed I was to discover I was reading book three of a series without a chance to read books 1 & 2. I really hate doing that. I don't skip chapters. Why would I skip books or read them out of order? But here I was starting with book three and wondering what I missed and how lost I might be. Yes, there are some references to past events, but they are mentioned the same way characters talk about an unwritten past in brand new stories. I didn't feel completely lost for not having read the first two books. One thing that was a little jarring was the onslaught of so many characters all at once. Someone else must have realized this was a problem, because there is a cast-of-characters list at the front of the book. This was helpful, but I doubt that a few lines of explaining who is who could possibly endear the characters to the reader as much as two full books worth of plot and dialog.
Case in point: It seemed to me that the main purpose of the female protagonist, Deni, was to go around verbally defending the male protagonist, Mark. Now Mark is Mr. Perfect in just about every conceivable way except his father and step-brothers are scum-of-the-earth criminals. This earns Mark undeserved suspicion which Deni tries to dispel. Without the benefit of the other books, I got the distinct feeling Deni wasn't really in Mark's league as far as Christian character and maturity, but she's attracted to him. Well, OF COURSE she is! Why wouldn't she be? He's PERFECT! The questions was, why weren't all the rest of the girls in town attracted to him as well? And for some reason I couldn't fathom, Mark didn't think he was good enough for Deni! Naturally, this only made him all that more attractive.
Perhaps it is my predilection for fairy tales which wants to see Mr. Perfect find a Miss Perfect. An average female reader from the real world can feel comforted for not landing a real-life Mr. Perfect (were such a thing even to exist) when she knows she is not perfect. But if fictional Mr. Perfect is going to settle for fictional Miss Average, then we imperfect readers are going to feel envy for fictional Miss Average. Have I lost you yet? This is my convoluted way to say: It was hard to feel anything towards Deni but envy.
So I've covered the premise and some characterization. Let's get to the plot. With nearly all vehicles crippled by the "pulses", grocery deliveries stop, so hunting and gardening become necessary to survival. On a stormy, freezing morning, young Zach lands a 10-point buck with one shot, but someone else finds this large hunk of meat irresistible and shoots Zach in order to steal his deer.
Mark is also an excellent hunter (and inventor and philanthropist and volunteer deputy sheriff...) and he happens to shoot a deer the very same morning as Zach. He was nowhere near where Zach was shot, but no one saw Mark, so he has no alibi. Mark's family affiliations bring instant suspicion. As if that wasn't enough, someone is actively framing him, paying false witnesses to lie about Mark's whereabouts and trying to stop Zach's ventilator while loudly asserting to the sight-impaired hospital roomie, "Tell Zach that Mark dropped by." The town vigilantes try to lynch poor Mark and these guys aren't even satisfied of Mark's innocence when Zach eventually wakes up and says he saw the shooter and it was NOT Mark. I guess that is rather the point though: to vigilantes, evidence is irrelevant. Act on suspicions and take the law into your own hands.
It's hard to talk about the story without giving away too much. It's a page-turner. And perhaps this is as good a time as any for me to mention this book consists of very short chapters. The story is only 270 pages, but is divided into an astonishing 72 chapters! If I wrote the same number of pages, it would probably be 25 chapters or less. Yet I dare anyone to accuse Terri of giving her readers too many opportunities to set it down. So what? After said reader has had his little potty break, he WILL pick it up again.
Another gem I discovered in this book. Critics, listen up: Terri Blackstock changes POV characters. Often. In fact, she does it even more than I do! I am so glad someone proved it is useful and compelling and doesn't "ruin" a story. Next time I hear one of those POV-snobs whining that we "must" pick just one character who has to be part of every scene, I plan to hit said snob over the head with a hardback copy of True Light.
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Read Grace Bridge's Review of True Light.
Read Frank Creed's Review of True Light.
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