It’s unnerving reading a book about a devastating pandemic at this point during the COVID-19 crisis, but in fairness, this near-future SF duology by Tosca Lee was published in 2019, so Lee gets credit for anticipating a timely topic. The first book, The Line Between, tells how Wynter Roth, a young woman in her early twenties, escapes from a doomsday cult and (obligatory spoiler warning for the first book here) is entrusted with some tissue samples that may help with the development of a vaccine against the growing pandemic. It’s a rapid onset dementia virus that is — unsurprisingly, since this is a science fiction novel — almost invariably deadly to those who catch it.
At the end of The Line Between, Wynter, her niece Truly, her new boyfriend Chase (with whom she fortuitously met up during her desperate travels), and a couple of family friends are lucky enough to befriend a doomsday prepper, Noah. Noah (with even more foresight than the author) shrewdly built a large, completely decked-out underground silo where sixty-three people, including Wynter’s group, are completely sealed in for six months, in the hope that when the automated door unlocks the pandemic will have passed.
A Single Light begins right where The Line Between left off. Wynter and the others tucked away in the hidden silo are adjusting to their restricted but safe life underground. At least everyone there is healthy, and there’s ample food, as well as a nightly broadcast from Noah, who remained aboveground to help guard their safety, among other reasons. But too soon, Noah’s video communications abruptly cease for an unknown reason. The close quarters and lack of any news from the outside world combine with fear and stress to cause serious problems for the hidden group, not least Wynter herself, especially when murder accusations against her — she was a busy girl in the first book — become public knowledge.
So it’s a relief when the silo’s electronic door opens after six months, though more than a little disturbing because it happens a few days before it was scheduled to open, and there’s no sign of Noah … or any other living person, for that matter. Wynter and Chase set off on an expedition to find out what’s become of Noah and our society, and to try to find some badly-needed antibiotics for a dying member of their group.
Through Wynter’s eyes, who tells this story in first person present tense, A Single Light shows the bleakness of a nation where society has crumbled. Most people are desperately seeking food and medication, while a few take advantage of the disintegration of the rule of law. There’s a hint of both Mad Max and The Walking Dead in Wynter’s and Chase’s travels. Their exploits were engaging and suspenseful, especially when they come to a large town that seems to have the medicine they need, but the town is ruled by a viciously cruel kingpin and his henchmen. The ending of A Single Light felt rushed, as Lee quickly wraps up various plot threads and pulls in a few new ones, in a somewhat scattershot approach.
Wynter is a character defined by her alarming impetuousness and dramatic tendencies, but also her undeniable courage and loyalty to her friends … at least those she can trust. At one point early on Chase is forced to divulge a surprising secret to the silo group. While I loved the new light this shed on his role in the story, I found Wynter’s reaction over the top. It’s not quite as bad as Bella’s shutdown in New Moon in the TWILIGHT SAGA, but close enough. She’s not my favorite type of character, but her reactions are understandable given her traumatic upbringing. The other inhabitants of the underground silo group are roughly sketched-in characters at best, but Wynter does meet a few more memorable people in the course of her travels, particularly Otto, a kindhearted mute man.
As in The Line Between, there’s a discernable spiritual element to this tale. For the most part it’s very subtle, surfacing only occasionally (it’s notable that there’s no indication Wynter ever has premarital sex) and becoming clearer toward the end. Also like the first book, A Single Light has an allusive title, suggesting the need for spiritual light in an increasingly dark world. A Single Light is an intriguing apocalyptic-type adventure, and a quick, gripping read.