Disclaimer—I received an ARC of this book for free in exchange for an honest review
I know I say this a lot, but this cover art is STUNNING. I’d pick it up in a bookstore just for that
The Maasai Mara Sleeping Syndrome has returned after a six-month hiatus. This time, it’s popped up in New York, and it’s wiped out an entire homeless shelter.
The same night of the outbreak, Harper, a seventeen-year-old girl, stumbles across a glowing figure in the desert outskirts of her neighborhood. As her suburb goes on lockdown, Harper finds herself isolated from her friends and family, and soon begins to suspect that the events — though thousands of miles apart — may have something in common.
Harper must find her bravery and embark on a plot-twisting adventure that will have her looking for answers in unexpected places… and worlds.
I enjoyed this book, and ended up reading the last two thirds of it in one sitting. The beginning of the novel, however, was a little rocky. Harper’s initial characterisation, backstory and family dynamic is pretty close to every YA heroine you’ve read before— she fights with her (unbelievably restrictive) mother, babysits for cash and wants to hang out with her friends as much as possible.
Harper’s response to the figure she sees in the desert also reads as shallow and unbelievable. She panics and overreacts to a ridiculous extent after reading a single post online—for a book marketed to a generation that grew up with the internet, it reads as either condescending or out of touch. Her plan to escape is poorly thought out and out of character, and is foiled so easily it leaves me wondering why it was included at all.
The plot picks up at last with the outbreak of the Sleeping Syndrome, though I was surprised at the tone that quickly set in of a classic horror with a restricted location. Max was an odd character, I assumed from the set up that he’d have more significance in the plot. An abundance of details in this section bring the setting alive, but none of it has any real impact on the plot.
The introductory ‘life before’ section of Glow is too long. It throws the reader off their stride and leaves you wondering if Harper is ever going to get interesting. The scene in which Harper babysits is entirely unnecessary, and in the interactions with her friends, Harper fails to shine. When Harper wakes up in the custody of aliens, she finally develops a backbone and the plot picks up. Harper develops as a character, and her relationship with her family is revealed a little, making her backstory more believable.
Rubaveer and Adam were probably my favourite characters in the book. In fact, the book was filled with nuanced and interesting characters that I wanted to know more about. The problem, then, was that there wasn’t enough time for all of the characters to be developed. This is the first book in the series, however, so perhaps Arl, Vulgan, Max, Tamera, Jane and some of the other intriguing characters will become more important in later books. I also found myself wishing that the Masaii Mara Sleeping Syndrome had been explored in greater depth, though there were a few moments in Glow that reminded me of Mira Grant’s LINK Feedback, or even her Parasitology series1.
A lot of the worldbuilding and plot resolution in Glow occurs when people tell Harper things straight up, so if ‘telling not showing’ is a pet peeve of yours, this book may not be for you. I don’t think this level is unusual in YA, however, there’s just not much YA science fiction—the more detailed world building requires more frequent explanations.
Harper’s abilities seem a little bit unearned and almost too much for the plot at times, her physical changes in particular being rarely mentioned and serving little purpose other than cementing her changed circumstances.
The scenes of human cruelty included in this novel were meant to provide motivation for key plot events, and while they did that, the almost casual way so many brutalities were mentioned and described weakened the impact somewhat. There are also numerous topics discussed that may be a sensitive issue for some readers, and it’s my hope that a trigger warning or disclaimer of some kind is included.
Most of the complaints up to this point have been minor issues—rough edges easily excused when you consider that this is the author’s first book. The only thing that truly impacted the readability was the odd pacing. As I mentioned, the introductory section dragged, and from a quick glance at Goodreads LINK review—a number of readers gave up before they passed this section. The ending is likewise oddly protracted, and the book in generally seemed as though it would be improved by a more tightly woven plot.
However! As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Glow was an engrossing read once Harper and the world Aubrey Hadley built had a chance to come together and draw me in. In particular, I enjoyed the relationships and believable responses Harper had to the people in the Canopy, and side characters were not neglected. Adam and Jacqueline interacted well, and whenever Adam and Tucker interacted I couldn’t help but grin. Arl and Vulgan were well-written and interesting, and Rubaveer was a true pleasure to read.
The worldbuilding was consistent, and numerous small touches worked together to both hint at the sinister nature of the villains, and add to the differences between the world of the Potency series, and our own.
All in all, I wish the book had been more refined. But I would gladly read the sequel, and I look forward to reading more books by Aubrey Hadley. Glow was a quick, enjoyable read that I would recommend to fans of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, or James Dashner’s Maze Runner series. Those who enjoyed Justin Cronin’s The Passage would also do well to consider reading this book, available June 15th of this year.
1 If it wasn’t clear, this is high praise