I heard about Nightfall by Peter Kujawinski and Jake Halpern several months ago and had been unable to get the book out of my head. The premise—an island that experiences 14 years of day and 14 years of night—had me instantly intrigued, and I finally relented and purchased the book despite the ho-hum reviews I’d read online.
Upon receiving the book and telling my husband about it, he informed me that Isaac Asimov wrote a short story/novel entitled Nightfall where a civilization has experienced endless sunlight and is being threatened with the fall of darkness. Eerily similar ideas…though I found no mention of it in the acknowledgements section of Halpern and Kujawinski’s novel. Despite these similarities, the two books seem to dive into very different directions with the idea, so I don’t feel the authors have done anything particularly wrong, it is just something worth noting before moving on.
Okay, so my expectations were slightly high because I found the idea to be so interesting, but I don’t think that is the reason I ended up so disappointed. Frankly, I think the book failed to deliver. It is the classic case of great idea, poor execution. I will expand on why I disliked the book, but I’m going to talk briefly about a few things I did like.
The basic plot outline works well. (Two of the main characters, Marin and Kana, have to go looking for their missing friend, Line, thereby missing the boats carrying people from the island. Upon being left behind, they have to fend for themselves against the creatures emerging from the darkness and find their way off the island.) There is a natural ordering of events and I think the pacing was really well done. If other aspects of the book had matched up, I think I would have found myself downright hooked.
The rituals surrounding the islanders leaving Bliss (the name of the island) were also a nice touch. Every family had to decorate the home the way it was when they arrived on the island, they had to rearrange furniture and clean everything, and then they had to spray lime juice around the house to get rid of their scent. The entire time this is happening, the reader knows they are doing it to hide their presence from the night creatures, but the characters in the book have no idea. It gives the reader something to look forward to, which ultimately kept me reading.
Now, for the things that weren’t so great.
My biggest complaint by far is that there was very little tension. The pacing of the story and the set up for the creatures worked well, but the downfall came in the narration. Rather than sitting in a scene and building tension, the authors just came out and explained what was happening, then, when it was over, the characters moved on to the next task. There was very little reflection, and the reader wasn’t fully aware of what the characters were thinking during these scenes, so there was a disconnect between the reader and the characters. Plus, plot-twisting news was often delivered as if the character were relaying the weather. So, as the reader, I knew it was huge news, but I didn’t feel like the characters reacted properly.
Another issue was that the characters just seem to inherently know things that I didn’t feel they should know. (I don’t want to be spoilery here, so I’ll try to explain it without any key details.) When one of the main characters began going through something pretty big (and totally unexpected), they just knew that it was happening, even though it was a pretty crazy thing to be happening. Then, once they realized it was happening, they didn’t question it or even mourn. They just accepted it and continued on with the mission. It felt clinical and devoid of emotion, and it wasn’t the only place in the book to feel like that. Sometimes it seemed like the authors were too concerned with the plot and not enough with character development.
The last, and probably least problematic, problem is that the world itself felt flat. This island had supposedly been inhabited by humans (during times of daylight) for a very long time, but their rituals felt contrived and not like long-standing traditions. It was easy to see that the rituals were used as a plot device, as a way to set up the story later and keep the plot moving forward. Instead, I would have liked to be given a more fleshed out version of this world, to feel that it could be a real place with real traditions and real people in danger.
Overall, I continued reading the story relatively easily, being drawn along by my own curiousity at how it would end, but there is definitely a huge lack of tension and suspense. For an idea that sat in my brain for months, the authors failed to deliver. I would recommend this book for younger readers, though.