Thursday, September 4, 2014

Immortal Light: Wide Awake by John D Sperry

Lucy’s normal life is turned upside down when she casually meets Benjamin – a seemingly young man with an ancient secret who haunts her dreams with mystery and secrets she desperately wants to understand.

The new hot guy walking her dreams isn’t the only mystery in Lucy’s life – as her touch seems to be bringing life back to the dead, once or twice could have been odd misunderstandings but it’s becoming clear something supernatural is happening

She needs an explanation – but for that she needs her dreams of Benjamin to be real.

The plot is, sadly, held together with spit and wishful thinking. There’s a moment when Lucy goes to the beach to see Benjamin posing dramatically before the stormy waves. There’s no real explanation why Benjamin has decided to wander down the beach in the middle of a storm. As for Lucy driving around dangerous roads in the middle of the night?

“Her mind was defying all logic by insisting for some inexplicable cosmic reason that she had to go back and find him.”

Yes, really. And this is hardly the only time it happens. People do outright bizarre things because of random feelings that crop out of nowhere and, later in the book, because the Light (whatever that is – magic, god, a bit of both) wills it. This story is held together by a lot of these moments

Sometimes it’s not even explained that well. One of the main problems of this book is that it’s pacing is awful. The whole first half to two third of this book drags out terribly as Lucy is wilfully kept in the dark about her special powers, the whole plots history and everything else woo-woo. We get a huge amount of Lucy angst and worry and fretting and aborted love triangle and little of anything remotely interesting. Most of the book, Benjamin refuses to tell Lucy anything except in dreams where he has the option of plausible deniability; if she tries to talk about it in real life he pretends not to understand her. So she spends a huge amount of this book wailing and angsting about whether her dreams are really real or she just falls asleep and has a vivid imagination and all the creatures coming back to life around her are pure coincidence. Unsurprisingly her dreams are real. But why Benjamin decided to play this ridiculous secret game is never really explained – all it seems to do is be there to drag the story out for much much longer

Is this is a spoiler? No. Because any reader who is even a teeny tiny bit genre savvy is fully aware that her dreams are real.

I honestly can’t even say that the concept is original or draws me in. We have a pretty standard tale of a high school girl who has special woo-woo powers because REASONS and she’s under attack by bad guys because REASONS so she has to come to terms with her powers and the history and everything while she is repeatedly told how so very special she is.

Sadly, it’s also a classic kind of specialness because has no real special qualities beyond her woo-woo, which is so very special. She learns super fighty skills because woo-woo. She has powers because chosen one woo-woo. There is nothing really about her that stands out as special – and I can get the whole “every day person” sense of wanting to identify with the protagonist – but I’d then expect that every day person protagonist to stop up and be special not just be the bearer of the special.

In some ways, I find Lucy to be an utter blank slate on which the woo-woo can happen. She has a family she loves, but doesn’t spend much time with. She goes to school, but I have no idea what subjects she excels in or what her hopes and dreams are. She kinda-sorta has a boyfriend (another blank slate character who is very easily packed off later) for a pretty conventional but undeveloped love triangle. She has a best friend who kind of floats around and pushes Lucy to date and generally plays cheerleader. She works in the library to pay for a car which she then uses to get to the library and she isn’t a big reader. It’s just… I have an outline but it’s not coloured in. The whole “normal life” part of the book feels sketched – like the author has written a plan “she has a normal life, then…” but the normal life is supposed to be a backdrop  before the adventure starts; I can see that, but if that’s the case it needs to be a much much much shorter part of the book.

But when we get past the normal life part of the book things pick up much faster – but they’re still super predictable. There’s nothing especially original here and must of it is told through VASSSST info-dumps of info-dumpness.

Lucy also spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing over Benjamin, crying over Benjamin (seriously, she has a really massive family tragedy later in the book and seems less upset about that then she is about whether Benjamin likes her or not), being furious with a girl who seems to be hanging around with Benjamin and raging at him for not loving her. This isn’t even after a lot of dream visions or when she’s sure the visions are real – she’s obsessing over him after seeing him once, briefly. She’s upset that he’s not suddenly dating her because they ran into each other and had lunch together. She develops this really quite stalkerish attachment to her long before he pulls out the arseholish dream stalking. It’s not endearing.

This book is generally light on characterisation which hits any marginalised depiction – but we don’t actually have many so undeveloped minority characters is “saved” by erasure! Benjamin and his brothers are ambiguously described as “tan” but I think they’re POC since they do have 2,000 year old South American origin – they’re also a completely almost non-human culture. Lucy isn’t a particularly strong female character with her boyfriend obsession and doing random things because FEELINGS but it’s more a case of universal under-development than sexism. Her best friend is one note and her mother is rather overshadowed by her father

I’m actually going to end and say it wasn’t exactly an awful book or even a bad book – it was a typical book. It was like someone had taken all of the templates of a paranormal YA and just put them together without any real development or smoothing of the rough edges. It’s very typical, it’s very predictable, it’s a classic “normal girl discovers she has super powers and is the Chosen One along with hot magical man” but that’s all it is.