Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein

Josin McQuien

Greenwillow Books
Releases April 23, 2013
400 pages
YA / Dystopia / Science Fiction

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No one crosses the wall of light . . . except for one girl who doesn’t remember who she is, where she came from, or how she survived. A harrowing, powerful debut thriller about finding yourself and protecting your future—no matter how short and uncertain it may be.

The Arclight is the last defense. The Fade can’t get in. Outside the Arclight’s border of high-powered beams is the Dark. And between the Light and the Dark is the Grey, a narrow, barren no-man’s-land. That’s where the rescue team finds Marina, a lone teenage girl with no memory of the horrors she faced or the family she lost. Marina is the only person who has ever survived an encounter with the Fade. She’s the first hope humanity has had in generations, but she could also be the catalyst for their final destruction. Because the Fade will stop at nothing to get her back. Marina knows it. Tobin, who’s determined to take his revenge on the Fade, knows it. Anne-Marie, who just wishes it were all over, knows it.

When one of the Fade infiltrates the Arclight and Marina recognizes it, she will begin to unlock secrets she didn’t even know she had. Who will Marina become? Who can she never be again?

Could it be? Is this really a standalone YA dystopian title? Am I mistaken in believing all the ends were tied except for a few windows cracked open that don’t involve enough plot to produce a second volume? Arclight got points for that alone. Don’t get me wrong – I like series, but when every single book you pick up is the start of a commitment to two or three others gets a little overwhelming. So yay for a standalone!

Another bonus point – this turned out to be science fiction! And not just because it’s a dystopia! What I thought was going to be some demonically angled story turned out to be more about science-y things, though the science-y things left me a little confused when it came to peripheral issues. Because I don’t want to spoil anything, all I’m going to say is – science-y stuff, yay! But still don’t think too hard and provide plenty of hand waving of details when it comes to the science-y things.

And the ultimate reason this book was so enjoyable to me? It was genuinely surprising. I don’t know if it’s because I read so much within certain genres, but not a lot of books really catch me off guard and I usually guess the gist of the ending about midway through. That was not the case with Arclight. There was rarely a point where I felt like I knew where the story was going and the ultimate reveal actually surprised me. Good work, Josin McQuein.

Arclight is the last remaining bastion of a dwindling human civilization. Marina is a new comer, recently rescued from the all-consuming dark where the Fades lurk. She’s the first survivor from outside the Arclight found ever, and she gives hope to some that other humans live out there somewhere, while others believe she’s going to bring the evil Fades to consume them all. After the Fades break in and attack the compound, fear infiltrates every corner of the Arclight and Marina feels even more like an outsider. Then a Fade is found in the barrack halls and is captured, at which point the entire story takes a turn.

Marina is a sympathetic protagonist as an outsider, with no memories of her time before and constant pain that requires regular medication. She has quiet strength that shows up when it counts and when she’s required to be strong to what’s right. She also has a convenient ability to be in the right place at the wrong time, so she picks up pieces of information when it seems inconsequential only to find it impossibly important later on. Tobin, ultimately Marina’s love interest, has a bit of a bipolar attitude early on, hating Marina, then protecting her and then flirting with her, only to hate her again moments later. I really had no feelings toward Tobin one way or another. The two have sweet moments that made me go “Awww” internally, and I felt for his struggles in accepting the loss of his own family. I just don’t think he’s a character that will stick with me for very long.

The Fades are odd. The first experience with the monsters makes them sound like the movie-version Dementors with flowing rags and clothes of gray and black making them seem bigger and more imposing than they are. Later on, it sounds more like they’re wrapped in cloth like a mummy to protect them from the light. But when the cloth comes off is when the Fades really get interesting. I enjoyed them as characters, but never really found them frightening. Arclight has been promoted as for fans of The Hunger Games who also like the thrills and scares of Stephen King. I guess it’s scary? Other than a chapter or two in the first quarter that I read in the middle of the night, I found no scares or fear lurking in the shadows, so the Stephen King reference in all the promo material didn’t really click with me. Despite that, the Fades are the most interesting of all the characters.

But the story is surprising, intriguing and full of mysteries I wanted to unravel as quickly as possible. As the story got more complex and things became so much more than what they seemed, McQuein dragged me further into her world of light and dark. By the end, I felt victorious alongside those fighting for what was right. This is an unique dystopian world with intrigue and characters that seem simplistic on the surface, but get much more interesting as the story goes along. The journey with Marina was often exhilarating, surprising and never boring. Definitely one of the more interesting debuts I’ve been fortunate enough to read this year.


I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thank you HarperTeen and Greenwillow books for being continually awesome.