A Neon Darkness: Lackluster

A Neon Darkness by Lauren ShippenA Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen

A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen A Neon Darkness (2020), the second book in Lauren Shippen‘s THE BRIGHT SESSIONS trilogy, is only very tangentially related to the first book, The Infinite Noise. It centers on a group of atypicals (the in-world word for people with powers) a full decade before the first book occurs.

Robert Gorham is 18-going-on-19 when he arrives in L.A. for reasons unclear to the reader until much later. His power makes him able to effortlessly manipulate people into doing what he wants, and he’s used that power liberally to get where he is. When he falls in with a group of other atypicals, he starts to have to take a long hard look at the morality of his choices.

A Neon Darkness is a villain origin story, which could have been an interesting tactic following the sugary sweet tone of the first book. It does lean into the tonal whiplash of its premise, but not to the strength of the narrative.

The Bright Sessions by Lauren ShippenIn what I’ll generously call a bold choice, A Neon Darkness does not have a story arc. What I mean is that, while there is some tension built towards a climax, there is really no rising or falling action. If you look at it from a plot perspective, the status quo is maintained and then the novel ends. Bafflingly, nearly nothing happens; it is, at best, a character study.

I’ve spent a lot of time here on Fantasy Literature and elsewhere talking about how I am a character-driven reader first, everything else second. So maybe, maybe this kind of plot-lite book that centres on one guy’s decent into villainy would work for me. And maybe it would, but not this time. The main character is almost interesting. He gets so, so close but ultimately the author just completely fumbled the landing for me.

I found the central idea of A Neon Darkness intriguing. Everything else about it is lackluster.

Published in 2020. A Neon Darkness, the second Bright Sessions novel from creator Lauren Shippen, features villain Damien, who can make anyone want what he wants. Robert Gorham always gets what he wants. But the power of persuasion is as potent a blessing as it is a curse. Robert is alone until a group of strangers who can do impossible things — produce flames without flint, conduct electricity with their hands, and see visions of the past — welcome him. They call themselves Unusuals and they give Robert a new name too: DAMIEN. Finally, finally he belongs. As long as he can keep his power under control. But control is a sacrifice he might not be willing to make.

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SKYE WALKER, who has been on FanLit’s staff since September 2014 (after a brief time on staff as a YA reviewer in 2007-2008), is from Canada. Their HBA in Anthropology and Communications allowed them to write an Honours paper on podcasting as the modern oral tradition of storytelling: something they will talk about at any and all opportunities. Skye is a communications professional in the non-profit sector. These days their favourite authors include Ursula K Le Guin, Bo Bolander, and Chris Wooding. They can be found on social media @tskyewalker

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One comment

  1. I give the writer credit for maybe trying something new here, though.

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