"Our creators designed our bodies. Our faces are theirs--these scars are the only things we can truly call our own."
In the first book the so-called “Birthday Children” awoke—twelve-year-old minds in the bodies of 18 to 20-year-olds—unsure of who they were, what they were, or where they were. Much of that book was a Lord Of The Flies-styled journey of world-building discovery and sci-fi survival. In Alight, readers remain in the first-person present-tense perspective of M. Savage—contested-yet-fierce leader of the Birthday Children—as they land on the planet Omeyocan and start yet another race for their continued existence. Each of them begins regaining memories from their progenitors, which proves both an advantage and a looming hazard. It also repeatedly begs the question of just how different the cloned landing party can actually be from the ones who created them as “empty” vessels. In a matter of a few days, the group faces food shortages, biological toxins, the threat of the orbiting vessel they fled, mysterious creatures within the city and the possibility of intelligent and/or angry natives in the jungles beyond. As if things couldn’t get any worse… thanks to a religious fanatic in their ranks, Em may soon have a coup on her hands.
What I Liked:
Sigler does a surprisingly good job of recapping the events of Alive upfront—without falling into the trap of info-dumping. I still wouldn’t recommend starting with this book if you haven’t read the first in the series, but if for some reason you do, you’ll get the gist of what’s going on pretty quickly. It’s been nearly a year since this reviewer read the first book, and I had no trouble recalling where we’d left off. It was also a bit of a mercy that the minds of the central characters matured so rapidly, taking out most of the Middle Grade feel. The prose was notably less choppy than book 1 as a result.
Much more so than in the first book, Alight provides a subtle-yet-poignant analysis of concepts like identity, empathy, individuality, misjudgment, sentient (human?) rights, the value of the next generation/unborn life, and leadership accountability. The “sins of the father” is also a running theme that successfully provokes thought. The added element of an alien species proved both intriguing and ethically stimulating.
Characterization remains a high point. Em continues to be a strong character—almost to the point of masculine. She is flawed enough that readers will likely waffle between rooting for her to remain in-charge, and questioning her judgment. Her determination to not repeat the mistakes of her genetic code source is by far her most admirable trait—and perhaps will provide some opportunity for meaningful reader introspection.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Unfortunately, the patience this reader had for the first book did not extend as well into this, the second book. The reveals were slow in coming up until right at the halfway point, and 200 pages is a long wait. (In this reader’s opinion, a lot changed for the better at the halfway mark—which I can’t really go into without dropping spoilers.) Up until the second half, it was difficult to sympathize with most of the kid/clones—as they continuously made poor decisions and regularly drove the question of whether or not they might be just as horrible as their creators. This reader spent a little too much time wondering if it wouldn’t be better for this tiny attempted colony to –not- survive.
The general feel of the book remains more on the fantasy end of light sci-fi fantasy, as there is little or no attempt to explain how or why any of the abundant technology works. What kind of power source is running most of this tech? (Guesstimated answer: Space magic!) There also remains a huge slew of historic background questions. Why all the Aztec architecture and imagery? What happened to Earth? Why the seemingly arbitrary caste system? What’s with the ritualistic murder obsession?
Unfortunately, the romance arcs often felt like needless over-complication that should have been put completely on hold—given the logical mindset of the MC and the constant crash of crisis situations. There was an allusion to scientific tinkering and raging hormones, and fortunately the rapid mental maturation made a degree of sense. But that didn’t quite justify all the rushed and rabbit-trailing talk of “love” among youth who’ve only had a week or two to form attachments. Due largely to the extremely crunched timeline, this reader simply couldn’t buy Em’s love-triangle or feel invested in her ultimate choice.
Content Note: The cussing is turned up significantly compared to the first book, and it’s indicated there was off-screen sexual relations (between two of the characters who may or may not have at the time presented as 12-year-olds on a mental level. The confusion there may either bother or placate certain readers and/or concerned parents. I won’t presume to guess which.)
As advertised, this series is likely to sit well with fans of Maze Runner. High adventure, strung along on mystery and copious amounts of withheld information.