Narrator: Suzy Jackson
Series: Lightlark #1
Published by Recorded Books
Published on 23 August 2022
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Source: my local library
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#BookTok phenomenon and award-winning author Alex Aster delivers listeners a masterfully written, utterly gripping YA fantasy novel.
Welcome to the Centennial.
Every 100 years, the island of Lightlark appears to host the Centennial, a deadly game that only the rulers of six realms are invited to play. The invitation is a summons—a call to embrace victory and ruin, baubles and blood. The Centennial offers the six rulers one final chance to break the curses that have plagued their realms for centuries. Each ruler has something to hide. Each realm’s curse is uniquely wicked. To destroy the curses, one ruler must die.
Isla Crown is the young ruler of Wildling—a realm of temptresses cursed to kill anyone they fall in love with. They are feared and despised, and are counting on Isla to end their suffering by succeeding at the Centennial.
To survive, Isla must lie, cheat, and betray...even as love complicates everything.
I didn’t really feel like Lightlark was a YA courtesy of the suggestive content which had more in common with indie smut than trad YA fantasy: as it happens, those two genres happen to be my favourite and I read a fair bit in both. I didn’t go into it expecting it to be YA, however I am still reviewing it because I feel quite passionately about a few things and need to get them out of my head, and this is my blog and I can do what I want with it. Although, Imma be truthful here: it feels like it hit spot on exactly what all those smut readers want when they say they want YA with spice, which you know, shouldn’t be a thing.
I also have some pretty strong opinions on using tropes to sell books and you can check that out here.
So I want to talk about how Grim, a 500-year-old man (literally Rhysand x Edward Cullen), groomed an inexperienced barely 18-year-old girl by psychically sending her dreams of them having sex that she did NOT consent to receive (and nor did he seek her consent to provide these images directly to her brain where she has no opportunity/defence to prevent future ones). This is, in my mind, the equivalent of sending her unsolicited d!ck pics she can’t delete and forcing her to watch p()rnography with the intent of seducing her. Never mind that she could block a gross older man sending her d!ck pics but she can’t exactly block Grim from sending her dreams, can she?View Spoiler »No, it doesn’t matter that they are technically ‘memories’ and that she was at one point in love with him, because even if she was in love with him at that point, no consent was sought before forcing her to observe sexual activities with his intention to seduce her. And in any case, since he removed her memories, also without her consent, how do we know that anything he is saying is actually the truth? « Hide Spoiler
I don’t want to get into an argument about how she’s ‘legally’ an adult as if that means he’s allowed to do whatever he wants to her: she is essentially a super-sheltered, inexperienced girl who has basically only known two other people in her entire life, who has no known experience with men, and he is over 500 years old and if that doesn’t gross you out then maybe you need to re-evaluate your own morality.
I won’t be taking arguments on this: Grim is a sexual predator and this is not romantic, the end.
Yes, I did read it. I read it all the way to the end where it was explicitly stated View Spoiler »that Isla was not in love with Grimm because he could not share her power. Also I can’t believe Ray Sunshine was the good guy all along and Stabbington McDon’ttrustme was actually not a tortured morally grey ‘hero’ that gets the girl despite… everything. I was expecting some subversion, thanks to the promise of ‘villain gets the girl’ (and still trying to figure out who the villain was, if this promise was accurate and not a lie designed to sell a book) , but I guess that was the subversion after all!! How often does the blonde good guy win the girl and the dark-haired rake doesn’t? Anyone wanna count for me? « Hide Spoiler
I don’t remember the last time I was so unemotionally affected by a book. I just honestly did not care if anyone lived or died, I didn’t care about the stakes and the ‘curses’ which didn’t seem that bad because we didn’t get to see anyone really suffering from them. Oh, I can’t go out during the day/a full moon, welcome to fucking quarantine lockdown circa 2020, I’ll be your resident introvert. I don’t even remember the other curses, I think one of them was people couldn’t fly? SO they had to walk everywhere? I don’t even believe that Isla’s entire people were supposed to be eating human hearts twice a month. Where the hell were they getting their supply of regular human hearts from? I also don’t understand why they could only solve this curse every 100 years and they only had 100 days to do it in before… what? What did they do for the other 99 years between Centennials, NOT try and solve this curse problem? Where did the island, that only appeared every 100 years yet had people living on it, go in the off season? How was one of the rulers of the six realms also the ruler of Lightlark when it disappeared for 100 years? There were islands for each magic group that were different to the realms, for some reason Wild Isle (so original) was dying, even though everyone else’s islands seem to be doing OK.
It seemed like such a big deal that the Centennial was going to be over soon and oh no, everyone was going to have to go back indoors until nightfall. Or daybreak. Or die when they turned 25 – now that was a society I think could have had a more interesting background. Why wasn’t Isla one of them? Those stakes seemed much higher to a single character – if she didn’t ‘win’ this Centennial she was doomed to die at age 25. That could have been next week!
And here’s another forgotten plot point: if the ruler died without an heir, their entire people died as well. If I was the people, I would be doing everything possible to ensure there was a frikkin’ heir before sending the ruler off to a fight likely to end in her death! Because they were supposed to fight. They were explicitly ‘allowed’ to kill each other after day 50… for some reason that was never explained. But one of the rules that was absolutely made up by the contestants, not the prophecy they all seemed to be guided by, said the rulers weren’t allowed to have heirs, right? And I absolutely only believe that the author put that rule in there so that Grimm and Oro (the so-called ‘love interests’) couldn’t be many times great-grandfathers at 500 years old each and still be romantically connected to Isla because THAT, apparently, is going too far.
I also just want to touch briefly on the writing: there were many, many ‘things’. As in,
“The sun was a yolky thing.“
“Singing was a Wilding thing, a temptress thing.”
“Lightlark was a shining, cliffy thing.”
We use ‘thing‘ when we’re being deliberately vague, or can’t describe something, – even that word I just used, ‘something‘, indicates the presence of a thing I can’t describe. The sheer number of times the word ‘thing‘ was used to describe objects, people, ideas, concepts… I don’t really think that should be so high in a professional author’s book. You’re supposed to be good at describing. If it was on purpose to create a sense of mystery or atmosphere, you failed. Use your words. JUST SAYING.
Anyway, I can’t remember all the curses or even the character names because this was so blah. The plot consisted of a lot of searching, and even then, the worldbuilding wasn’t particularly imaginative. The societies were split into different magical groups like a Harry Potter/Divergent rip off, and Isla (whose name should have been spelt something like Eisla or pronounced eye-la rather than eyes-la) was accidentally sexy a lot of the time courtesy of her revealing dresses she didn’t get a choice in wearing and her people’s sexual liberation – but of course, she’s so inexperienced with men and finds it terribly embarrassing.
And here’s a massive plot hole: View Spoiler »Grimm erases Isla’s memories of them being together and having lots of sex because he assumes she’s not going to agree with Aurora’s plan to seduce Oro, which, funnily enough, is the exact same thing her trainers/tutors/captive garbage abusers have been training her to do her whole life. So he WANTS her to go and seduce Oro, which does not in any way include the need for her to fall in love with Oro in return, but then very deliberately seduces Isla anyway? That’s… that’s not the plan, buddy. « Hide Spoiler
So, yeah. This book was only okay, and after the TikTok hype before it was ever written, and a bunch of those scenes used to sell the book didn’t even show up (I patiently waited forever for an ‘enemies-to-lovers so intense’ let alone ‘they hook up against a bookcase’, but it never materialised), I can’t help but feel that it’s better to finish writing a book before you try to sell it on the basis of trending tropes, especially with the risk of going viral and then being unable to deliver what you promise. We actually have laws against that in Australia: it’s called consumer protection.
And I think that the problem with this book being so hyped and then ending up being so poorly written and clumsy, mostly filler focusing purely on aesthetic imagery and not the substance underneath (bananas and chocolate in a temperate climate!), with laughable worldbuilding, plot holes I can fit my fist through, characters that disappear for the entire book, unexplored one-off concepts such as enchanted objects and ancient creatures like mermaids, dumb prophesies that don’t make any sense, plot twists that have no foreshadowing (if you want a good plot twist, see the Prison Healer series), leaps in logic that defy logic, overpowered main characters, and a general ‘make it up as you go’ attitude, is that upcoming writers will see this book’s apparent success (I understand the author keeps bragging about a movie being made? As if a movie is every author’s endgame) and worst of all, imitate it.