3 out of 4 stars
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Western literature has a rich history of dystopian fiction; George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and even The Hunger Games trilogy by Susan Collins have all had lasting effects on modern society. As our world plunges deeper and deeper into chaotic darkness, these books become more relevant and crucial than ever. They are where we go to contemplate the direction in which we are headed and how we might handle the fallout of all the hatred, violence, and mismanagement of resources, but their heroes and heroines also give us a glimmer of hope that, like the mythical Phoenix, we might be able to rise from the ashes and build our world anew. Such is the power of books like Jane Grace: The Library of Light by Trace Sonnleitner.
The first book in the Jane Grace series, The Library of Light takes readers to post-apocalyptic Rubelle, one of only six cities to remain standing after the Great War. The fallout of the Great War has taken its toll on the infrastructures and resources of Rubelle, and its citizens are hardly fairing any better. Some choose to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and try to move forward, whereas others opt to drink the memories away with what little whiskey the city has left. Jane Grace is one of the latter. With no way of knowing if her parents survived and feeling utterly hopeless in the face of the destruction which surrounds her, all Jane wishes to do is drown her sorrows and block out the recurring nightmares. While many survivors around her find solace in the prophecy of the Chosen, the Watchers, and the construction of a better world, Jane sees them as nothing but fairy tales that will never come true. Then everything changes the day that the World Council arrives.
Chosen for her unique view of the world and the help she has given her fellow citizens during the fallout, Jane becomes the councilman for Rubelle and is swept off to the utopian city of New Atlantis and the grand opening of the Library of Light. Nanotechnology and holograms are only a portion of what Jane encounters in this new paradise of knowledge and peace, but not everything is what it seems. Friends and allies harbor dire secrets, enemies arise from the most unlikely of places, and the stories of Jane’s childhood prove to be far more than stories. Who can Jane trust? What is the truth behind New Atlantis and its founder, David Trimere? Most importantly, who is the Chosen, and will he or she ever come forward to rebuild the world?
The Library of Light by Trace Sonnleitner is a prime example of young adult dystopian fiction, albeit sometimes predictable. The plot itself proves to be quite common for this genre, right down to the heroine with a male best friend and a separate love interest. However, the treatment of the subject makes this novel stand out from others. Namely, the time period when the story begins caught my attention from the first page. The idea of coming into the post-apocalyptic period right at the beginning of reconstruction is not one I have ever encountered before. Usually, the books start after a new society has been established for some time and another change needs to be initiated in order to overthrow that new, corrupt society. In Sonnleitner’s book, readers first get a glimpse into how people had to survive immediately following a devastating war and then watch the survivors start to transition into a new world. I found this approach very refreshing, considering that I’ve always wondered what it was like to get to the first version of the new government following the apocalyptic event.
This setup opens the book up for what I consider to be its biggest strength, the world building. While the location of Rubelle and New Atlantis as well as the cause of the Great War are vague enough to make the story applicable to any country and any modern conflict, Sonnleitner paints a vivid image of this world that feels realistic. He goes into careful detail about how the war affected Rubelle and its citizens, from the fault lines in the streets to the trade system the survivors have created. The technology used by the World Council and in the Library of Light serves as a poignant contrast to the ruins of Rubelle, but rather than cause dread or feelings of unfairness, Sonnleitner presents it as a ray of hope for the future, just as Jane sees it. The readers also see just enough of the main characters’ backgrounds to understand their motivations and who they are as people without overshadowing the plot, and even secondary characters, such as Henry from the Bootleggers Club, receive hints as to what their lives were like before the Great War. The author has clearly put a lot of thought into the setting and the character development, and it shows.
Unfortunately, this world building does lead to excessive amounts of exposition. Considering the story involves a lot of background information which readers would not know on their own, exposition is inevitable. The problem comes from the timing and amount of exposition. It often appears in the middle of a scene, in a pause in a character’s dialogue, or in a similar inconvenient place. It would take up at least the majority of a paragraph and, as Sonnleitner does not always use past perfect tense when he should, the transition back into the narrative present often jarred me. If the background information had been spread throughout the narrative and placed more appropriately, the novel would have been a much smoother read.
This issue with excessive exposition points to another weakness in The Library of Light: the writing. In general, Sonnleitner’s writing is engaging and easy for the average reader to follow. I became genuinely invested in Jane and wanted to see how this part of her story ended. Regardless, a notable number of sentences were long-winded, and I had to re-read them several times. These sentences often appear in the descriptions. While the details provided within these sentences are critical to the world building, they could have been split up and written more clearly in order to spark the readers’ imaginations rather than confuse them. I also noticed multiple proofreading errors. They were mostly minor, such as “peak” instead of “peek” or something as small as a misused comma that only a pair of eagle eyes would notice. Still, the sheer number of them shows that another round of editing is needed, even if the errors themselves are not severe.
Overall, I give Jane Grace: The Library of Light by Trace Sonnleitner 3 out of 4 stars. It is a captivating read with a compelling concept and well-developed world. The plot is typical of dystopian fiction—and, due to the prophecy element, fantasy—but the approach to the subject is unique. I would have preferred a more organic introduction of the history of this world and its people, but even just a redistribution and shortening of the exposition and additional editing would have made the writing much smoother. Nevertheless, for the concept and way it kept my attention alone, I cannot give this book any less than three stars. The fact that I actually want to see what happens in the novel's sequel despite these flaws only supports this rating.
I highly recommend this book for lovers of dystopian fiction, particularly young adult readers. At about 155 pages, it’s a quick and enjoyable read. I am unsure about recommending it to younger readers solely due to the war themes, terrorism, and alcoholism depicted in the novel, but I trust that teenagers and young adults can read it without any psychological or age-inappropriate problems. Furthermore, if you do not like to see the aftermath of war or distrust of one’s government, you might want to pass on this one.
Jane Grace: Library of Light
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