book-reviews

Radiance

by Hannah Finley

Rating: ★★★

Radiance is the sequel to Luminosity, a re-imagining of the Twilight series. Despite drawing on the characters and settings of the Twilight series, Luminosity appears to have rewritten enough of the events of the canon series that Radiance is left with a great deal of freedom of movement, and the author makes good use of this, spinning her own plot to explore and destroy the original setting.

A core theme of Radiance is a critical examination of the real-life implications of storybook love as a binding, unseverable connection which is formed at first sight and overrides all other loyalties. This concept was explored somewhat in Luminosity, but it really comes to the fore now. With all other relationships topped, characters are single-mindedly devoted to their soulmates, to the degree that a major chunk of battle planning is devoted to discovering whether opposing combatants can be neutralised by Cupid's arrows. The author doesn't flinch from exposing ugly possibilities, including such features as a grown werewolf whose soulmate is a toddler and an unavoidable tracker who rapes his soulmate because he cannot believe she means her protests.

The story begins somewhat shakily, with the new main character being introduced and then somewhat awkwardly flung into some fast-moving plot, whereby a setting that has remained mostly stable since the end of Luminosity is suddenly and violently shaken up. Given that the main characters are mostly immortal, and capable of spending long years doing things in a way that most characters are not, it seems something of a missed opportunity that so much development in terms of both politics and individual abilities is crammed into relatively rapid developments. This is especially true when you realise that the impression of the setting outside the violent months actually covered in the story is one of a glacial pace of change, if there is any at all.

Alongside the core hazard, the story focuses very much on interesting powers and interesting applications of them, which is, well, interesting. The feeling is however that 'ordinary' vampires and their base abilities are somewhat sidelined, their relevance to the plot shifted out the way for interesting pieces which can be pitted against each other. The same can be said for the werewolves, who are deprived of agency throughout almost the entire story arc, and don't really do anything, mostly serving as a testbed for one of the more dangerous powers.

While Radiance deploys plenty of twists and turns early on to prevent a repeat of the issues with Luminosity, the author's gradual return of all the things suddenly lost at the end of Luminosity soon starts to hint at a happy ending, a promise which is eventually delivered upon to somewhat silly levels, with a glorious and somehow unchallenged new world order, magical resurrection of even people who were definitely dead, blood-drinkers almost casually turning to vegetarianism, and a princess. A somewhat more muted result would better suit my tastes.

Despite its flaws (of which there are more, including the rather toneless dialogue where almost everyone sounds the same), Radiance contains some interesting points wrapped in a highly readable rationalist fantasy, and is a marked improvement on the author's previous work, with appeal to people who've little idea what Twilight ever was. If my star ratings matter to you, I would remark that this one dithered between three and four for a while, and I'm not sure what the result will be even as I write this sentence.