by Philip Brown
Strange Fiction Press
Many thanks to Strange Fiction Press and Philip Brown for providing both review and giveaway copies of this book.
For being a book about a girl who finds a mystical healing bracelet, Light Runner turned out to be very down to earth and contemporary. I have to say, I really, really liked that. Philip Brown does a great job keeping the story grounded in our world and our reality. So much so that I could see something like this showing up on the news or in a Twitter feed.
The way Brown relates the story, interspersing Dara's memories of life before and skipping through months at a time by relaying only the information we need, gets across a sense of where Dara is, mentally and emotionally. I sensed her longing and nostalgia even while time blurred as she struggles to survive, one day at a time.
The story is well-told for the most part, with decent writing. There's an interesting mix of styles that lands Light Runner somewhere between light literary fiction and straight up YA which, if you were wondering, worked pretty well. There is some philosophical postulating, but it isn't heavily leaned on, and it's generally related in the personal musings of either our main character Dara or the antagonist Gunarik.
Some aspects of the plot felt a little convenient or illogical, but on the whole, it's an interesting story, and Dara -tough and determined- is totally believable and easy to relate to. She has a satisfactory development from uncertain, irresponsible teen to competent and -in a way- wise. I really liked where Brown leaves her at the end of this story -wise enough to understand what's next, but still at heart a teenage girl with a renewed appreciation of home and family. She learns a lot about herself and gains a lot of confidence, but I really felt like she learned wisdom along with it.
The villain in Gunarik is a little harder to pin down, which, again, fit really well with the story. There are many aspects of his character, the conflict Dara finds herself caught in, and the bracelet itself that are left intentionally unexplained or unexplored. There is enough information given for the reader's satisfaction as far as Dara's story, but there are definitely things left open for a sequel. It seemed appropriate that the origins of the conflict -like the bracelet itself- have an aura of the unexplained about it. We learn what drives Gunarik, a good mix of villain bitterness and genuine emotional damage, but the history of a lot of the fallout Dara deals with is hidden behind a shroud.
There was one big thing about the story I didn't like and that was the portrayal of the police. Understanding that Dara is evading the police because they consider her a person of interest in a homicide, it makes sense that she isn't going to be filled with confidence at their ability to help or their desire to believe her unbelievable tale. This would have been fine, but this unfavorable light is carried past Dara's perspective and into an observation throughout the book, with any number of encounters with individual police characters, who are depicted as being fairly callous and treating people's grief or shock as just another day at the office, and finally with the reveal that one of the character's back stories was greatly affected by an abusive cop. All together, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
I'd recommend this for ages 14+, just because there is violence, mentions of sexual abuse, and a scene where someone does try to take advantage of Dara, though nothing actually happens.
Light Runner ends abruptly (again, sequel material) but leaves us with an interesting kind of question as to the purpose of the bracelet. I'll be interested, down the road, to learn what the answer was, but at the same time, leaving this question for us at the end fit really well with the tone of the book. This is one of the elements that lends to a more literary feel for the whole story. It gives us a sense of ambiguity, without withholding the information we really, really want. Instead of feeding us questions about the possibly supernatural origins or purpose of the bracelet, Brown instead centers the story around the fact that Dara is a teenage girl, alone, uncertain, and searching desperately for her father. We are so caught up in Dara's personal stakes that we don't necessarily care about whether the bracelet has a higher purpose -we just accept that the bracelet is. For me, the way Brown managed to pull off this sleight of hand was one of the most interesting aspects of the story.
So there's my review. Now, who's ready for a chance to win a copy of Light Runner?
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Don't miss Philip Brown's guest post Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story