The cover of The Breaking Light by Heather Hansen really grabbed me; it said possible post-apocalyptic, possible sci-fi, possible urban fantasy. My Kindle removes all blurbs, so I never know what a book is about until I start reading. This one had a first chapter interesting enough to keep me reading. It introduces Arden, a “girl” who is being held at knifepoint by a startlingly handsome “boy” after she tried to rob him. Arden is not at all afraid and spends some time admiring him while deciding whether or not she should kill him. The author does a great job with inserting backstory in a subtle way here. In relatively few words, we learn that the “boy” is off-limits because he’s one of the elite Solizen (whatever that is), he’s rich (therefore she isn’t), and he wears a blackout band (like her) to block detection by the “govies”, which is illegal. His name is Dade and although her family is sworn to destroy his, she escapes his grip, turns the tables (and the knife), and lets him go, possibly because he’s attractive. The encounter isn’t particularly romantic and mostly served as worldbuilding. It piqued my interest enough that I kept reading and discovered a world with an interesting premise.
In The Breaking Light, humans ventured into space and colonized this planet, which has a permanent cloud cover. They built cities with tall towers that reached above the clouds and then synthesized vitamin D so that citizens of the lower, below-cloud, levels wouldn’t sicken and die from lack of sunlight. Eventually, the ones living in the towers sealed up the lower levels and began doling out the vitamin D (called VitD) in order to live the good life and lord it over the suffering cloud-dwellers. VitD became contraband to be smuggled and sold. To deal with this, the lower levels developed a drug called Shine that eases the symptoms of “Violet Death” and prolongs their (pretty horrible) lives. Arden is a member of the largest drug smuggling, Shine-dealing family, run by her brother, Niall, whom we immediately discover is a horrible person who wants to destroy the Solizen, VitD, and basically, everything, because he is a few pills short of a bottle.
Despite the interesting world in The Breaking Light, things start to fall apart pretty quickly. First, these characters are all supposed to be teenagers and I simply could not accept that they were anything but adults. It was jarring every time one of them was referred to as “boy” or “girl”. Next, there was no real antagonist. Niall was Arden’s biggest obstacle to getting what she wanted (Dade), but he was barely in enough scenes to get a handle on his personality. Arden does his bidding even though she doesn’t want to, and we’re not given any reason why she should feel any sibling connection to him. The book rapidly degrades from there.
Dade is basically a caricature of a spoiled rich dude, except instead of being an entitled jerk he has a heart of gold and wants to help all the bottom dwellers. Why? We don’t know! We are treated to a whole chapter that follows Dade as he has a supermodel photo shoot with his gorgeous fiancée and attends a dinner party, and the whole thing is starting to feel like a romance novel. It gets immediately worse when Dade heads for the lower levels and finds Arden in a seedy club. They start dancing and the author goes full-on romance with penetrating gazes, the lustful connection, and a passionate kiss. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance novel, but when a badass, gun-toting, drug-dealing woman goes all mushy-goo unicorn rainbow love-struck in a setting that just isn’t made for it (directly before another shoot-em-up action scene, go figure) it’s just weird. It literally felt like I was reading two different books.
The plotline for The Breaking Light gets convoluted with Dade and Arden having different agendas and yet desperately trying to be together (because looooove) and they manage to move between city levels without difficulty, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be really hard, yo. Finally, Dade is getting pursued by a bad guy and the scene drags on and on into the realm of utterly impossible (he becomes almost superhuman by the end of this chase) and then he falls and is presumed dead, except that he gets miraculously rescued (which gives the reader zero surprises by this point) by mysterious people I’m calling the Deus Ex Machina Tribe, since they never appear in the book before or after this amazing rescue. Other people are kidnapped, rescued, killed (no help from the DEM Tribe this time, poor bastards), grievously wounded, and other plotty stuff happens before Dade and Arden share their TOGETHER 4EVAH kiss and prepare for Book II. By then I didn’t care about either of them and wanted someone to just blow up the planet and start over.
My advice to the author would be to minimize the action scenes, stop trying to make the characters be edgy teens, and rebrand this as a romance novel. The Breaking Light would probably sell like hotcakes. As a sci-fi novel, there were too many marshmallows at the gooey center that gummed up the dystopian gears.
Characters: 2/5 (so much looooove) – Story: 2/5 (antagonist who?) – Science: 3/5 (it seemed plausible to me although I did not research vitamin D deficiency) – Setting: 3/5 – Action: 3/5 – Pacing: 1/5 – Worldbuilding: 3/5
Excerpt: Dade’s lips brushed hers, soft at first with the barest hint of pressure. Then he leaned in farther, pulling her until she grabbed at his shoulders to seal their lips together. She felt as if all her dreams coalesced into heart-melting want. She could go on like this forever, sharing the same breath, touching, and being one another. Their masks brushed lightly, the nanotech sparks showering them in a cascade of fireworks light. (See what I mean?)