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Now, I've reviewed quite a few Dean Koontz books in recent months and whilst I have been able to say in some instances that I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience, anyone who reads my reviews regularly will also know that I've had to be a little less positive about some others.
Yet Koontz has written some books I have wholeheartedly enjoyed, created some characters I'll never forget, and has been a regular staple of my reading diet for years now. So, when I've read a few of his efforts which have jarred with me, be they for repetition of techniques, overly similar characters or just plain weird endings, it's such a sheer delight to pick up a book and read something which reminds me of the brilliant writer's true capabilities. So, whilst wandering around my local library wondering why there were absolutely no Koontz books under 'K' in Sci-Fi, Fantasy or even Fiction (God knows how they run that library!), I am delighted that I stumbled across Lightning, left on a shelf seemingly at random, and took it home with me; in Lightning, I have a reminder of why I continue to return to Koontz's work.
So, if you don't mind, I'd like to share with you why I enjoyed it so much.
Originally published in America in 1988 and first in the UK a decade later, Lightning is a 512-page novel that gripped me from the start.
Currently available new from Amazon at just over £6, but from various sources used and new, although as yet I can't see that Amazon offer it for Kindle.
We open with a scene involving a doctor who has turned to drink, a man who is visited by a mysterious stranger who stops him attending a call from his hospital.
That same night, as a strange lightning rips the sky apart, Laura Shane is born. Her father, Bob - a lovely, good-humoured man completely committed to his wife - is also introduced to us, and after his daughter is born there are two very different strangers present in the hotel seemingly curious about this newborn girl.
Now, this is a very hard book to review in that I can hardly say anything without putting in slight spoilers, which obviously I will keep to a minimum. If you don't want to know any further details without reading the book yourself, please feel free to skip to my opinion below. But, without some further detail, I would basically have to stop here - and that's certainly not going to tell you much about the remaining 500 pages!
Laura Shane's mother died in childbirth, leaving Bob devastated and alone in bringing up his daughter, who he raises beautifully, with humour, tenderness and hard work in his grocery store. The relationship between the child and her father is shown to us when we meet them again, one day as Bob works in his store and Laura diligently helps him out as she enjoys to do. Then a strange burst of lightning strikes the small town, shortly before a presumably drug-addled robber burst into the store and points a gun at Bob and Laura. This incident proves to us that the two strangers who were in the hospital on the night the now eight-year-old Laura was born are still following the girl, although we still can't be sure why.
What Koontz crafts after this is a science fiction story as well as a tale about fate, strength of character and humanity. We see young Laura grow up against a life seemingly cursed with ill fortune as a young woman. We see her maturity, sensitivity and ambitions, her self-preservation, her talents and her emotions crafted by her experiences and we are not the only ones watching her, for someone is evidently following her path to maturity closely, and someone in turn is trying to ascertain why.
***SO, WHY IS IT SO ENJOYABLE?***
Well, I find it a testament to Koontz's ability to craft the human element to his work here that you have one aspect of the story - and again I'm trying hard not to include anything that will detract from the experience of reading this book for yourself - that he has one aspect of the story that is firmly in his ambitious science-fiction style that so many of us are used to, sharply contrasting to the tale of a young woman growing up to become a mature adult in the '80s, without losing the reader to a dislike of the sheer contrast of it all.
Koontz writes Laura beautifully, showing the adversity and heartbreak she has to live through as a young woman. At times she seems cursed, but later on there is also a love in her life that is so heartwarming, so tender and charming and so convincing that it really stayed with me long after I read the book. In turn again he has to convey the changes to her personality in reflection of the occurrences in her life, and he does this strongly.
For Sci-Fi fans, this genre strongly has its presence here. For those who love well-crafted, strong characters and the human side to a story, you have that too. What Koontz has achieved is a remarkable contrast between the two which he has controlled to produce one of his best works.
I loved this book, and if I see a copy for sale I will buy it - I will definitely read this again. Laura Shane is one of the writer's best characters, and parts of her journey through the plot had a truly emotional effect on me - the love, the loss, the trauma and the determination to survive.
The characterisation in this book is for me as strong as I have ever known Koontz to achieve. Again, the limitation of not spoiling the finer details hold me back from elaborating too much, but for me the reason Koontz managed to partner a completely science-fiction inspired element that some might have found too ambitious, too far-fetched and too sharp in contrast to the human story it is coupled with is that his characterisation is brilliant here. Bob Shane is only a small part of this plot but is beautifully written, as is Laura's life-long friend Thelma. Other characters I would love to reference here but I can't bring myself to ruin the story for anyone who has yet to enjoy it, but one in particular stayed with me long after this book ended.
In short I loved this book, I read it whenever I could and finished it in a few days as I travelled to work, and I know it is one that I will revisit in the future. I will want to read about these characters again, and as with The Taking, this is amongst my favourite works by the author and it is always a delight to return to the best work of someone who has contributed to your reading for much of your life. This shows all the best aspects of the writer - his imagination, creativity and ability to craft ambitious and grand plots, as well as his ability to create charming, inspiring and beautiful characters that haunt the reader for some time after the last chapter is finished. It shows charm and heart, it had me in tears at one point and it deals not only with the fictional aspects of the science-fiction genre but also the ideas of destiny and fate. A great book and one of my two favourites by one of the most successful writers of the modern era.
This was one of the very first ever Dean.R.Koontz novels I read, after Twilight Eyes, and remains one of my all-time favourites. The story is so fast-paced, the plot so action-packed and the characters so well crafted that there is very little here to fault and the whole thing is timeless!
On the night Laura Shane is born, lightning strikes and a mysterious stranger crosses her path though, at the time, of course she is blissfully unaware of it. The second time lightning strikes, the same stranger saves her from the intentions of a drug-crazed assailant. When Laura encounters the stranger for a third time and her life is saved once more, she comes to believe that she has a guardian angel who watches over her every move. But the truth, in fact, is even stranger than that and when it is revealed, Laura's life and that of her closest ever friend will never be the same again.....
I have always been a fan of anything involving Time Travel- one of my favourite ever films is the little known Jeff Daniels flick, Timescape- and here it is used in, what to my mind, is one of the most original ways ever. I am not going to give anything away and refuse to spoil a crucial part of the plot, but the way Koontz utilises this staple of science-fiction in such a unique and thought-provoking way is simply inspired and I love the way he gets around the whole issue of paradox ever present in Time Travel stories. This is the sort of book that has helped to establish Koontz as one of this generations' best-selling authors and has earned him a multi-multitude of loyal and devoted fans. Unlike some of his novels too, this book is over-charged with emotion and really touches you and takes a firm grip on your heart with it's wonderfully created characters. Not just Laura Shane but all of the main characters here manage to work their way into your heart and there is little doubt that this is one of his finest masterpieces. If you loved the original Odd Thomas or Watchers made you start to well up, then this book is for you! I honestly think this is perhaps his crowning acheivement and it is only a shame that more of his stories don't grab you the way that this does.
Honestly, I cannot praise this enough and if you haven't read this yet then all I can say is shame on you and what are you waiting for??!!?? It is similar in style to The Time Traveller's Wife but with less of the logistics and a much more believable storyline. One thing is for certain though, it is a story of soul-mates the like of which has never been told before more effectively or so movingly!
The first ever Koontz book I read was ‘Watchers’ and it gripped me instantly; the plot was exciting, the characters endearing and it was hard to put down. After such a successful first dip into Koontz’s world I was keen to read more of his works and began to devour his novels. However, such a combination of elements as had succeeded in my first read seemed rare and yet my patience was rewarded when I finished reading ‘Lightning’. THE PLOT Laura Shane has not had a lucky life; she was orphaned at a young age, lost one of her best friends in a fire, had her husband taken away from her and found her life in danger on numerous occasions (obviously a woman who had picked fate’s short straw in the lottery of life!). However, at key moments in her life when she might have died or suffered from an incident from which she would find it impossible to recover, a mysterious man has come to her rescue. He first appears in our story on the night of Laura’s birth when he prevents a drunken doctor from attending the hospital and attempting the difficult and complicated delivery. Lightning is rife in the air that night and it would seem that this stranger’s appearance is always accompanied by this meteorological phenomenon. Laura encounters the man she begins to think of as her guardian angel again at the age of 8 and again as an adult with a husband and young child. The man does not seem to have aged and Laura begins to suspect that the only explanation is that he is less angel and more time-traveller! Unfortunately it would seem that he is not alone and, accompanied by more lightning, more men follow him intent on both his destruction and that of Laura and her son. THE CHARACTERS One of the most important elements of a book is the characters. If the main characters are likeable then it is easy to empathise with them, to be interested in their actions and to fear fo
r their safety. When an author fails to engage a reader’s sympathies then the reader becomes apathetic as to both the character’s fate and the outcome of the novel. In this book Koontz provides us with a very likeable heroine aided and abetted by two endearing heroes. Laura has never had an easy life and her hardships started young. It is hard not to sympathise with a young child who has lost both mother and father and finds themselves raised in an orphanage. Laura faces risks from an orphanage worker with paedophilic tendencies and yet keeps calm, thinks logically and acts maturely and level-headedly to avoid an unpleasant situation. Already as a child we like her and fear for her welfare. As she grows older hardships in her life seem only to strengthen her resolve and form her into a more capable adult. When her husband dies she does not retreat into self-pity but concentrates on protecting her son. She knows they are both in danger and so takes self-defence classes, learns how to fire a gun and arms their home to the teeth (if a home can be said to have teeth) with both legal and illegal firearms. This is an intelligent and caring woman who chitchats with the criminal underworld and does target practice for hours on end in her garden. She is an extremely capable woman and I found it easy to admire her. Her son, Chris, is equally admirable. The loss of his father hits him hard, as would be expected, but he soon finds inner strength and wisdom beyond his years. He is obedient and can keep calm in an emergency. He uses his initiative and seems to have no flaws that are normally associated with childhood (no selfishness, no whingeing, no tantrums!) This woman and son combination is a winner and we are firmly on the side of our heroes as they fight against time-travelling villains! PARADOX One of the most confusing elements of any book that deals with the subject of time travel is that of pa
radox. I won’t even begin to describe a situation in which a time traveller might mess with his own past resulting in an outcome in which the time traveller wouldn’t have existed in the first place – so how could he have gone back and altered events. Aaaagggh – I said I wouldn’t do that! As you can tell, paradox makes my head ache every time it is discussed. In this book Koontz deals with the problem well and not once did I find my head throbbing from thinking too much; the time travellers can only go forwards in time and they can never travel to a point in time where they might encounter themselves on an earlier visit. There, that was remarkably simple wasn’t it! Koontz doesn’t confuse things by going into the whys or hows of time travel. After all, that really isn’t essential to the average reader of a horror novel. To convince us further that we shouldn’t strain our brains at the time travel concept, Laura’s young son, Chris, easily comes to grips with the mechanics of it and explains it himself in the language of a child. By this time there is no way that the reader can not understand; if an 8 year old kid can get to grips with it…. (don’t mention Pokemon, computer games or programming the video recorder please). SATISFACTION GUARANTEED The book is very exciting and fast paced. Although we follow events in Laura’s life from her birth, her life is extremely eventful and so we are never bored. The fact that she is being hunted by time travellers adds further suspense. They will not track her as would someone from her own time but will travel further forward in time to check public records to see when and where she was located and then travel back to that point in time to ambush her. She and her son must go into hiding and leave no paper trail of their whereabouts. They must think and anticipate the time travellers’ actions i
n order to defeat them. We can never be certain when and where she will step into danger and this heightens the tension in the book. Our heroes are gutsy and capable and determined to fight what seems to be an insurmountable terror. We admire them for this and are on their side every step of the way. At no point are we apathetic as to what might happen as we turn the page and as a result this book is hard to put down. This book contains no supernatural monsters, no ghosts or any other horrific beings, which although scary on the surface challenge our ability to suspend disbelief for the duration of the read. Although time travel is not possible (as far as we are aware, but you never know what the US government has under wraps), it is a concept that is familiar within the realms of fiction and so it is not difficult for the reader to accept and, therefore, find believable. All in all, Koontz has come up trumps again. I just hope I don’t have to read through another batch of his mediocre novels to discover another gem! OTHER INFO Publishers: Headline Book Publishing, Great Titchfield Street, London Price: £6.99 ISBN: 0-7472-3164-8