Lightlark by Alex Aster
Dark Fantasy for Teens
August 23, 2022
Review by Jen
When I first started listening to Lightlark by Alex Aster, I had no idea of the controversy around the book, the author and TikTok. I did hear about the book from BookTok and was super intrigued. I’ll spill the tea in a minute, but first my review.
Every 100 years the island of Lightlark invites six leaders from the six different cursed realms to compete against each other to break the original curse that resulted in the six individual curses. To win, one condition is that a ruler must die. No way to get around it. Each realm has a weakness that was caused by the original curse. Some can’t go out at day, some can’t go out at night. The main female character, Isla Crown, has a curse that punishes those who fall in love and her people can only eat hearts. Human hearts. Her people are called Wildlings. Which seems fitting! As if that isn’t bad enough, the actual worst curse is the one that causes every person in one of the realms to die at age 25. It’s a small population.
Isla and Celeste (she’s the ruler who is cursed with an early death) have been secretly meeting ahead of the Centennial. They pledged allegiance to each other and concocted a separate plan to win the competition and set everyone free. During the course of the competition, Isla is paired with the King of Lightlark. He’s a paranoid guy, not particularly warm and friendly. But, they reach an understanding about each other and sort of trust the relationship. They want to win. The king is one of the strongest rulers in terms of actual power. There is only one stronger, the ruler of the Night Shade realm. His name is Grim. If anyone is immediately seen as a villain, it’s him. But from the beginning Grim is soft on Isla. And Isla starts to feel things for him. She has sexy dreams about him, then can’t look him in the eye the next day.
I felt the love triangle with Isla, Grim and the King. I knew it was there. However, the romance between the King and Isla isn’t explored at all in the same way as Grim and Isla.
I really enjoyed Lightlark! It had all of the elements of my favorite YA fantasy reads. It was a bit like Hunger Games, ACOTAR and The Selection all wrapped up in one. There were some crazy twists at the end. Major betrayals and that connection between the King and Isla does…something. I don’t know that the book was amazingly well written or particularly original, but I really liked it anyway. There were imaginative uses of power in an interesting world, and I liked Isla. I also wanted to strangle her at times. She could be frustrating and immature. It’s YA book; not too surprised at the heroine.
The end is quick. All of these loose ends and major plot points are resolved in a rush with one of those villain type moments where they confess it all and cackle as the heroine suffers. There were some plot holes. And, I still liked the bulk of this book. After I finished, I went to Goodreads to update my status and saw all of the awful reviews. I mean…scathing. And when I looked later that night, the stars had actually dropped again. The last time I checked, it was like 2.63 or something. The gist is, the book went viral on BookTok, it’s already optioned for a movie. People felt like the author made this book sound spicy, and compared it to some very popular fantasy books. Some readers felt like the author lied to them. There were some very specific criticisms on her writing, which are fair. Someone even compared it to Fyre Festival. Google it…it’s a wild true story about a music festival that promised a luxury experience and was a complete debacle. There’s a great documentary on Netflix. Watch it. And then there’s the more complex issue being tossed in about how authors choose to market their books and that the author has allegedly some privilege (wealthy family). IMO, some reviewers have gotten just outright cruel in the way they’ve gone after the author. The book isn’t even released yet.
My take, the book was so hyped on TikTok and expectations were huge. The author is definitely skilled on TikTok, and has influential authors supporting the book, too. It didn’t deliver the way it should have for many readers. I liked it, it made me happy, and I listened to it for several days on my walks. It got me out the door when I wanted to sleep later.