Book Review: LightLark
Author: Alex Aster
Reminds Me Of: The Hunger Games, The Night Circus, Atlas Six
Welcome to the Centennial. Every hundred years, the island of Lightlark appears for only one hundred days to host a deadly game, where rulers of six realms fight to break their curses and win unparalleled power. Each ruler has something to hide. Each curse is uniquely wicked. To break them—and save themselves and their realms—one ruler must die.
To survive, Isla Crown must lie, cheat, and betray...even as love complicates everything.
Come To Jesus:
I'm aware there is some controversy around Alex Aster. Here's my opinion. She utilized TikTok to promote her book after getting denied repeatedly at different publishing houses. From what I saw, the large majority liked her prior to her success. Then she got successful, and y'all got bitter, because she didn't do things 'the traditional way.'
My mother always told me, when you point a finger at someone else, you're pointing four back at you. Shame on y'all for hating on another woman's success, when you should be uplifting her. She now has the platform to do the same for others, and I look forward to when she does.
I saw this book in an airport over Thanksgiving. I dropped the book I was reading to start it, a sin I rarely commit. It is categorized, and I'd agree, as a Young Adult/Fantasy/Romance novel.
Unlike my last couple of reviews, this is a singular book (as of today), so I can provide a bit more pizazz.
Long story, short:
The six realms used to be united on 'LightLark' - a magical island that provides the realms' rulers and subjects with elemental magic. When the quite brutal curse was enacted for reasons (and by persons) unknown, the realms were impacted harshly.
Learning about these realms, their morally grey rulers, and how the curse impacted their subjects, was my favorite part. So I'm going to force you to take part in my joy. The realms include:
Starling: Their ruler is Celeste, and her realm utilizes stars to manipulate energy. Due to the curse, she is the youngest ruler, as she and her people cannot live past 25.
Moonling: Their ruler is Cleo, whose people are water - masters and can control the sea. The curse forces them to stay clear of the water and the full moon.
Sunling: Their ruler is Oro, who is also the King of Lightlark. Since Lightlark is his source, his powers are endless. The curse condemned him and his people to only walk in the moonlight, never to step into the sun again.
Skyling: Their ruler is Azul, whose people were once able to fly. The curse took that ability away, grounding them.
Wildling: Isla Crown, the main protaginist, is the ruler of Wilding. Her people once controlled nature. The curse made other realms view them as 'temptresses,' eating hearts and killing anyone they love.
Nightshade: Grim (cheesy but I love it) is the ruler, and also the most feared of the six. No one knows the powers of Nightshade. In the book, he showcases drawing power from darkness, slipping between shadows and creating nightmares.
This is the 5th Centennial. You have Isla and Celeste, who are brand new to LightLark, and the other four who have lived since the curse was enacted. Bit of unfair odds.
The point of the Centenial is to break the curse. We learn it hasn't been done in the past due to lack of trust (Grim hadn't even been invited until this 5th Centennial), exhaustion (Cleo hadn't shown up the 4th Centennial), and never discovering 'the original sin committed.' To break the curse, six tests are given by rulers to determine the 'strongest' 'bravest' 'whatever - est'. The winner chooses partners, and these pairs work to discover the secrets of the original curse.
We learn Isla and Celeste knew each other previously, and have a pact to break the curse of their realms together. But things go sideways when she meets Grim, when she is partnered with King Oro, and feelings for both start to get in the way of her goal to heal her realm and its subjects.
King Oro and Isla search for the 'Heart' of Lightlark, which he believes will save the island. His power is dying, and as the book goes on, he is able to preserve and source less of his subjects. The realms start to crumble.
There are some clear gaps in the writing.
We learn about the history of Lightlark too late. Why did it break? Who caused it? The rivalry of Nightshade v. Sunling is clear, but we don't know why, and it was frustrating to make assumptions at times.
What happened at the previous Centennials? Since not everyone was there, did everyone just go home? Were rulers able to compete? How did no one die?
Why does King Oro hate Wildlings so much? I literally still don't know...
I will admit I didn't guess the twist at the end. I love it when I can't. However following the reveal, about 2 - 3 major gaps were filled in a matter of pages. It was too quick, and felt in contrast to the slow burn of the previous 300 pages.
It's a quick read, and while it has gaps, I think it's unique. There's a great deal of potential with this, specifically diving into the history of the characters and the events leading up to the book.
While it seems like I may be in the minority, I'm looking forward to the next book (and apparently a movie deal!)
Drink Pairing: Singapore Sling (Sipped on January 15, 2023)
Why? This drink sounds fun, but it's quite potent. I base it off Isla Crown, a young ruler born with no powers. Don't doubt her, as she makes up for magic in other ways...