Lightlark Book Cover Lightlark
The Lightlark Novels
Alex Aster
Young Adult Fantasy
Harry N. Abrams
August 23, 2022
ebook, Hardcover, Audible

#BookTok phenomenon and award-winning author Alex Aster delivers readers a masterfully written, utterly gripping YA fantasy novel Welcome to the Centennial. Every 100 years, the island of Lightlark appears to host the Centennial, a deadly game that only the rulers of six realms are invited to play. The invitation is a summons—a call to embrace victory and ruin, baubles and blood. The Centennial offers the six rulers one final chance to break the curses that have plagued their realms for centuries. Each ruler has something to hide. Each realm’s curse is uniquely wicked. To destroy the curses, one ruler must die. Isla Crown is the young ruler of Wildling—a realm of temptresses cursed to kill anyone they fall in love with. They are feared and despised, and are counting on Isla to end their suffering by succeeding at the Centennial. To survive, Isla must lie, cheat, and betray…even as love complicates everything. Filled with secrets, deception, romance, and twists worthy of the darkest thrillers, Lightlark is a must-read for fans of legendary fantasy writers Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, and Leigh Bardugo.

There is no doubt if you are on booktok that you have seen videos about “Lightlark” by Alex Aster. For months I saw videos talking about this exciting, new, YA fantasy and even pre-ordered it myself, but within weeks of it’s debut the videos changed. The excitement took a drastic turn and instead booktok was flooded with videos saying that this book didn’t deserve the hype or the movie deal Alex Aster was offered prior to it’s release. As I had already pre-ordered the book I decided that it would quickly move up my TBR because I had to know if I had fallen victim or clever marketing or if my initial interest in “Lightlark” held true. My review to follow will have more spoilers than I am used to including, but for this book specifically I feel it is necessary to help those who are wavering due to so many conflicting opinions.

We are first introduced to our protagonist Isla, the ruler of the Wildlings, who is preparing to venture to the Centennial, a chance for the rulers of the six realms to come together to defeat a curse that has plagued their people for hundreds of years. They have one hundred days to complete tests set forth be each ruler, and by the end one of them must die, effectively also killing all of that realm’s people.  Each realm has different abilities that have been weakened by the curse laid upon the land, so each of the rulers have their own unique interest in ensuring that they are one of the last people standing. This is Isla’s first Centennial, and the secrets she brings with her could either be her certain death, or the key to breaking the curse once and for all.

First Spoiler Alert, I did like this book. But there were valid criticisms that are worth noting. The first issue that is also the case with many popular fantasy books, is that there was plenty of room to include a more diverse cast, I think this is something that could be easily rectified as it is translated to film and will cross my fingers that they do so. Another plot point that took me out of the story was that they were given one hundred days to complete their tasks and figure out how to defeat the curse, but most of those days seemed wasted.  We were constantly given a “5 days later,” “10 days later” where nothing happened.  As much as it lined up nicely to have 100 days every 100 years, I think the author should either have put more of that time to good use, such as making their tests more extensive, or she should have made that timeline shorter.  I have seen criticism on the simple naming of the different realms “Starlings,” “Wildlings,” etc. but as this is marketed as YA I personally did not take issue with it. There are some odd adjective choices, one that stood out to me, not only because it was odd, but that it was used more than once was “yolky,” but it turns out it was intentional and does play into the story at the end.

With all of that being said, what did this book do right? I was impressed with Alex Aster’s ability to build a world as quickly as she did.  I can easily see how each realm would be translated to screen, she was able to describe it in such a way that made imagining each scene effortless.  The best thing she was able to achieve though, was the tension between Isla and the morally gray Nightshade ruler, Grim.  As a man who lives in the shadows he is the last person she should be able to count on, yet he always manages to be there when she needs someone to turn to. As they get further into the Centennial, she questions his intentions and when she must team-up with the intimidating Sunling ruler Oro, we encounter the infamous YA fantasy love triangle. Does Isla turn to the dark or the light when betrayals are revealed, and she must make seemingly impossible decisions?

There were some aspects of the story that I legitimately thought were plot holes, but were explained in the final few chapters in a way that made sense and I felt satisfied with the how and why. I know that this book will probably always be polarizing as what we have seen on social media seems to have forced an opinion one way or the other.  Was this prose and poetry? No. Was this an entertaining book that I could easily see translated to film and be successful. Yes.  I look forward to seeing how this series develops, and I hope Alex Aster is able to take the critiques of her readers to make what is such a strong concept truly soar.