Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
You know, the more times we reread this book, the more and more we appreciate it.
Nikki Broadwell has really demonstrated what a great storyteller she is. Her ability to weave together beautiful, detailed sentences with dramatic events is top-notch. It's no surprise considering she is the epitome of prolific authors with over 20 books published! She is an extremely capable and competent author with a load of experience. We definitely noticed that in Rosemary, which was rated 9.5/10, an almost-perfect score.
Her latest novel, The Last Keeper of the Light, is par for the course. It is a very well-crafted, intriguing read.
This book truly shines in one regard: the world-building. This is one of those books in which the world is a character of its own. This is true dystopia—a fallen world without rules, laws, or apparent direction. The government in the book apparently fell seven years before. Earthquakes, storms, race riots, wars, and apparent nuclear fallout have all taken their toll. It is repeatedly stated by the characters that they believe they're a handful of “hundreds” of survivors.
Unspeakable crimes are normalized. Humanity has lost its humanity. Rats are a delicacy. Babies, children, and women are sold as commodities. Everything seems backwards. Everything seems wrong.
That's what you want in a dystopia. You want it to be miserable. You want it to be hopeless. It sounds weird, but that's the name of the game in the genre. Too often we encounter something that's a hybrid between dystopia and about a dozen other genres including, believe it or not, comedy. We should not be laughing or smiling at a dystopia. This book really nails that. This book is miserable. This book is borderline hopeless. And it's beautiful and effective in those regards.
The people in this book, beside maybe a handful of protagonists, are despicable. This really puts forward the idea of a fallen world, a world in which, as a character in the book states, “everyone's bad.”
It is stated that in a world like the one in this book “the selfish are the only ones who'll survive.”
Even the main protagonist (as wonderful and sweet as she seems to be) grows to get used to killing, and it ceases to bother her. Her estranged ex-soldier father, Lars, is quite literally one of the main villains of the first half of this book while simultaneously being one of the protagonists. That's the bizarro-land we're dealing with: a book in which the villain is our ally. Even the protagonist's mother, Bethany, is crooked at times, although we still mostly love her. For example, she chooses Lars, a terrible human being who abandoned them, resulting in the death of one of Bethany's sons, over Ben, her loving boyfriend, simply because Lars is better armed to protect her and her unborn child. That's cold.
The main protagonists name is Sandal, and what a protagonist she is! Sandal might be one of the best characters of the season, at least in terms of her character development. Few characters grow as much throughout the course of a book than Sandal. When we first meet her, she's an immature, playful, childish girl who is fascinated by bugs and doesn't understand sex or even what a penis is called. When she is impregnated forcefully and violently early in the book, she says that she thought a baby came from love, not from violence.
Killing, even in self defense, makes her vomit and sick. She clings to those around her for protection. By the end of this book, she's a much different character—a character who has aged a lifetime in several chapters.
Jacob is a great love interest for her and the two create one of the most interesting pairings of the season. Jacob is a boy of color in a world almost barren of color due to the race wars and genocide. In fact, when we first meet Jacob, Sandal doesn't know what to make of him because she's never seen a Black person before. She's fascinated by him. She inquires about his “kind” as if he's another species entirely, and Jacob constantly teases her about that throughout the book. It's a rather interesting dynamic!
There's also another great character in here who is probably going to go underappreciated by most readers, and that character is Colb. Colb is the kind of guy you want to be around: kind, compassionate, reliable, and trustworthy. Colb is one of the good ones.
Now, the main villains of this book have got to be the Reds. Yes, there's Lars and military-wealthy-elite conspirators, but the Reds are far and away the most terrifying and direct villains in the book. The Reds are basically raiders who rape women before shooting them, castrate men (to keep their testicles as trophies likes scalping), and kidnap babies to sell them into slavery. They are the worst of the worst, committing unimaginable atrocities, sometimes for no apparent reason and without provocation. Something else terrifying about them is how unpredictable they are. They come and go whenever and wherever they please. Even Charlie, the leader of Jacob's group (and his dad), and Lars are taken by surprise by the Reds despite their experience.
Probably the only thing we can say that's somewhat negative about this book is that the first half of it seems directionless. There's no clear plot in the beginning other than to survive. The protagonists are just trying to hang out with the group of people that gives them the best chance of survival. The first half of the book is more concerned with world-building and establishing the characters. That's fine and understandable, it just takes a bit of extra patience to get through. The second half of the book does have a much clearer plot in that it takes the protagonist, Sandal, on a perilous quest to find her childhood friend and lover, Jacob, enduring many hardships along the way including the prospect that she may have lost Jacob forever.
Check this book out on Amazon!