Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan
Ok.....Stay with me in this one.....I promise it'll be worth it.....and I won't give anything away......
Set in an alternative now (we first meet Xavier in 2006) this book is built on the not unrealistic premise that technology has been developed that allows for information, experiences, education and self-improvement to be delivered directly into the brain. This is achieved through programmed light patterns that are received through the optical nerves. Because the technology requires a certain physically maturity and brain development it doesn't work until the recipient reaches puberty. In the patois of the book receiving this technology is being 'shined'.
Still with me? Good.....
The story starts with Roksana having a bad day in the city of Los Sombres. Roksana's a teenager who hasn't yet shined although all her friends have. Her dad's at work and something seems to be going wrong, people who've been shined seem to be acting in a strange way.........
Fast forward in time and we meet Xavier who's living with his mum in a commune on the outskirts of Los Sombres 'post-Fall'. The city and surrounding areas have been placed in quarantine due to an outbreak of 'bad shine'. The commune itself exists between the city and the outside world, belonging to neither and is made up primarily of shine casualties, burn-outs and children; all of this is overseen in an unofficial capacity by Powaqa, a Hopi Indian. To try and prevent the 'bad shine' infecting those children approaching puberty, such as Xavier, drugs are being used to hold their biological clocks. Into this insular existence comes a stranger from the city............
What is 'Shine'? What's gone wrong in Los Sombres? Can the Government be believed? What does the stranger want with Powaqa? Who is he? Can the "bad shine" be fixed? Does it have a life of its own? How do Roksana and Xavier fit into all of this? Who/what is FallN - the voice of transmissions coming from the city?
All of these questions and many, many more are answered in the 400 pages following the introduction of the stranger as we discover the city and the truth behind Shine.
So that's the set up to the story, but is it any good??????
This is a complex and well-plotted book where nothing can be taken at face value. On one level this is an adventure story where children have to survive in a world where adults can't be trusted, on another level this is a conspiracy story where there are no obvious answers and the truth always seems just out of reach finally this can be seen as a spiritual story as consideration needs to be given to whether Shine will enable the human race to grow in ways never previously possible.
Tricia Sullivan isn't the easiest of authors to read as she drops you straight into the action without giving you any background into the technology or terminology used. This is only revealed as and when required during the book and therefore the first few chapters can be quite confusing as you try and understand the context and terminology.
Having previously read "Sound Mind" by Sullivan I was used to this approach however and trusted her to explain everything to me in due course. If you're new to her then this approach may be off-putting and I can only urge you to work through it.
I should also add that when I was reading the initial part of the book that deals with Roksana I kept thinking that I was reading a book aimed at a teenage audience (it dealt with her viewpoint, children are unaffected, parents acting weird, etc). It wasn't until "post-Fall" that I felt involved in the storyline.
The only other comment I'll make with regard to the writing is in reference to the Shine passages where the style has to change out of necessity (I can say no more). These sections are difficult to read and I guess difficult to write (from the Acknowledgements at the front of the book by Sullivan "thanks for your writing advice during a difficult passage that I didn't think I'd survive")
As I said previously the plot is complex and therefore this book is probably best read in large chunks to stop any aspects fading between reads. Despite this complexity the book does hang together successfully as a whole, there are no plot lines that just peter out and everything makes sense (as long as you think about long enough).
If you want a book that makes you think, that needs you to do some work, that actually treats you like an educated adult then this is definitely recommended.
If you want a book that doesn't challenge you, you should either look elsewhere or take the plunge and try this anyway!!!