My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Burning Light has a fair amount of stuff working in its favor, but also one element - the nature of the Light itself - that never quite gelled for me.
Authors Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler give us a wonderfully dystopic (one might even say apocalyptic) setting in the flooded, sweltering ruins of future New York. I really liked the diversity and culture baked into the altered landscape, and the way the authors presented humanity's adaptation to the new normal brought about by the disastrous effects of climate change, even if much of it is downright criminal. The waterways are patrolled by pirates and slavers, and a rag-tag team of military soldiers hunting down mediums for the Light and the junkies obsessed with it.
So, what is the Light? Frankly, I have no idea. It's analogous to a drug, given that those who interface with it are referred to as junkies. It's dangerous and can kill entire swaths of a population. Beyond that, the authors refuse to elaborate on the nature of their MacGuffin, despite it being very, very important to the characters themselves. Personally, being stuck in the dark as to the Light's nature made it difficult for me to care about it as a plot device. It was a little to fantastical and metaphysical for me to appreciate.
The characters, though, at least have reason to care, even if I ultimately didn't. Chu, our military squad leader tearing through New York to kill Light junkies at every turn, has a slick motivation and a wonderful, edgy darkness about her given her own personal history with the Light. She's on the warpath, hunting for Zola, a medium for the Light. Zola's connection to the Light, though, ain't what it used to be. Their history and cat-and-mouse conflict gives the story plenty of meat, but the resolution to their story wasn't as satisfying as it should have been, and much of that is due to the ambiguous nature of the Light.
The Burning Light has some terrific Big Ideas, but they could have used more time and room for development. It's a smart piece of work in need of deeper elaboration, at least for me. If you don't mind unexplained, inexplicable irregularities like the Light, and can just go with the flow, you may have an easier time of things.
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