Glow : Book I, Potency, by Aubrey Hadley (Ruby & Topaz Publishing)
This book began auspiciously with a homeschooled teenager who loves soccer and rebels against her mother’s demands for a curfew as a mysterious “sleeping syndrome” reaches epidemic scale. Not only that, but she starts seeing mysterious glowing creatures, invisible to everyone else. Before we can catch our collective breath, she’s kidnapped by an alien race bent of cleansing the Earth of human evil. What a great set-up!
Unfortunately, that’s where the story began to sag. The suspense dissipated into long, long, long stretches of characters explaining the obvious to one another. Action submerged under the weight of description and dialog that didn’t advance the plot, reveal character, or heighten conflict. Even when something important was happening, it felt distant and flat, without emotional engagement.
On a prose level, the many scientific impossibilities or rather extreme implausibilities are dismissed with “unknown reason,” or “somehow this happens.” I was able to ignore most of the medical errors, until “Unless he’s bipolar and can change his mind without a trace of his old emotions” just threw me out of the story, since my husband has bipolar disorder and that’s not how it works. Awkward prose includes bits like, “My ears comb the silence,” and “The seconds of silence that followed lingered in the air like a pungent smell.”
I want to say something about first person, present tense, when handled by an inexperienced writer. Both choices give the illusion of dramatic intensity and emotional immediacy but are actually hurdles to achieving them. Just because action happens inside the protagonist’s head and “in the now” does not automatically engage the reader more deeply. First person is commonly used in Young Adult fiction today (although this was not always true and might fall into disfavor in the future) because the focus is so often the personal growth of the central character. This creates difficulties in conveying information that’s necessary for the reader to understand but that the narrator herself does not know or that there is no logical reason for her to think about. You end up with dialog whose only purpose is the edification of the reader, or in which two characters tell each other what they already know, or ask idiotic questions at inappropriate times, which happens entirely too frequently in this book. Present tense in particular requires skill in order to not be flat and passive. You end up with passages of verbal flab like:
We go through the net, the garden, and then come to the base of the structure. There is no visible divide between the inside and outside. We enter the building by walking through an invisible force field. We enter a massive lobby with towering white walls that elegantly slope down from the ceiling and rise up from the floor like white sand dunes. We go to the wall straight ahead.
If you’re in need for a cure for insomnia, look no further. (Snarky aside: three out of four sentences begin with “we,” and two of those “we enter” — what editor let this slip through?)
I think in the end the length and tedious pace bothered me so much because I didn’t connect with the central character. She kept asking annoying rhetorical questions, and the choice of present tense conferred an unfortunate emotional flatness. Another reader might love the book. For me, though, the fact that this is only the first book in a series made it ¾ of a book too long. The story is imaginative and should have been compelling. I don’t know whether the author or the editor bears the greater share of blame for the result.