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Alight
by Scott Sigler
Del Rey, $18.00 TPB, 418pp
Published: April 2016

This is a sequel to “Alive,” click here for a review.

In the first novel, we were introduced to Em, a young woman whose life began when she woke from a dusty coffin as a 12-year-old in an adult body. Along with several other young adults, also believing themselves to be just twelve years old, she traversed a horrific wasteland of endless metal corridors full of dusty skeletons, in search of food and water…and their parents. As they traveled, many of them discovered they had certain skills and memories; Em’s is apparently leadership as she feels this quite naturally. But it comes with a price; she has to fight others to maintain her leadership and she has to deal with the heartbreak of failures as a leader, as well. They finally discover the ones responsible for putting them all in the coffins – the Grownups -and they aren’t quite the parents for which the young people hoped. After a heroic effort to escape, our heroes, along with hundreds of children, found themselves on a new world – with no resources except themselves, and incomplete memories of who they are/were and of what they are capable.

As the second story opens, Em and the others have landed their stolen shuttle on a new world – one that was, according to the Grownups, created for them. But they have no memories of what is expected and their skills are still, mostly, unknown or still being discovered. The symbols on their foreheads are beginning to make a little sense, like-symbols indicate like-skills. Em’s friend, Spingate, takes to medical care and diagnosis like she was born to it. Bishop, who once fought Em for leadership, is now her right hand and a powerful enforcer. O’Malley, the first face she saw and loved, is still a mystery as his skills are not so…evident. But he also supports her faithfully. But Aramovsky is a trial – he doesn’t seem to have any skills beyond oratory skills and a baffling view of the group’s relationship with….God. Aramovsky’s fanaticism will eventually lead the group into a hopeless war with the planet’s native population, when their time and efforts would be better served elsewhere.

They landed in the middle of an enormous city – full of buildings, plazas, roads and ziggurats whose size defies imagination. But everything is empty, overgrown…and full of dangerous creatures. Em finds clean water but it isn’t accessible as it seems to be guarded by a nightmarish giant spider. She finds an enormous warehouse full of enough food to feed her group for years and she begins to breathe a little easier…until Spingate finds that every bit of the stored food is contaminated with a deadly mold. Em’s leadership is sorely tested by Aramovsky’s rhetoric that the group is being denied food and water because they aren’t following the gods. They find evidence of a secretive native population who, obviously, have access to food – and a possible cure to the mold. But evidence also points to a native city that was destroyed in order to build the city to house the children – and these natives haven’t forgotten. If Em can make contact and build trust, they may be able to get help to survive. But time is running out faster and faster; the food on their shuttle that should have kept the group fed for a time has become contaminated with the insidious mold and Aramovsky is advocating force and war, to get what they need. And hungry children are more than willing to believe his every promise. Em and her faithful friends see a better path of cooperation rather than more death, which is all their Grownups provided.

And, speaking of the Grownups, while Em and the group believe they left all the murderous Grownups on the mother ship, in orbit but without any more shuttles; they may have found a way off the ship. Bello, one of Em’s friends, who was captured and had to be left behind when they escaped, has arrived on the planet in a makeshift shuttle and a story of assistance from one of the Grownups. But Em is suspicious and rightly so; the Grownups still want – and need – the children. They need their young bodies…in order to continue living.

This was a fascinating story; I keep wanting to pick up the book and continue reading. Since it’s written in first-person, we know only what Em knows and learns. So her journey of discovery is ours, as well. Her observations and growing relationships are fun to follow. She’s a 12-year-old in a woman’s body but without the experiences that she should have had. The young men are also 12-year-olds although they seem to be dealing with their belated puberty well. But neither they nor the women are prepared for physical relationships; they are still figuring out what they know in their memories and what their place is within this new society. We only just met some of the natives that Em discovered and I want to know more of the mysteries of the great city. Oh…and then there’s what comes next…but I can’t tell. Too much of a spoiler; but I am sooooooo looking forward to the next book to see what happens. ~~Catherine Book

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