The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book, unfortunately, is less than the sum of its parts. Some of these parts were good--the setting, the Hawaiian mythology, the growing, palpable sense of isolation as the entire world apparently falls apart--but these were offset by the generally lackluster characterization and several very large plot holes.
First, the good: the author has lived in the Hawaiian Islands, and it shows. His descriptions and settings have a ring of truth and authenticity I appreciated. I also liked his use of Hawaiian culture, mythology, and language. The hero, sixteen-year-old Leilani Milton, is half indigenous Hawaiian and half white, and not well liked because of it. This conflict is understandably given short shrift in the end-of-the-world scenario that follows, and her epiphany at the story's climax is a bit of weaksauce. Leilani is epileptic, and participating in an experimental drug trial at the beginning of the story, when the Emerald Orchid, the alien energy being Leilani likens to a spawning turtle, arrives to orbit the planet and bring about the end of civilization.
I've seen this plot before--bring down the power grid, since civilization is so dependent upon electricity, and the world basically goes to hell. The only unique twist the author brings to this, as far as I can tell, is the idea of all the world's nuclear power plants melting down (because without electricity, they can't pump water to cool the reactors) and threatening to irradiate the entire planet. Since the Hawaiian Islands are so dependent upon continuous shipments from the mainland--food, gasoline, etc etc--the excrement hits the revolving blades pretty quickly. The story becomes the saga of Leilani and her father trying to get from Oahu, where she had been having her medical tests, to their home on the Big Island.
Unfortunately, the Emerald Orchid is not a good hook to hang this plot on. It's not explained very well, and what is stated is implausible. It's an energy being that soaks up radiation and communicates with Leilani telepathically during her seizures? Leilani's father speculates that it's visited Earth before, and possibly caused our planet's extinction events? (HOW??? It's only wreaking havoc now because it's taking the electrical grid down. What, pray tell, would this being have to do with the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs?) Also, it seems to cover distances in space impossibly fast. The author is forgetting that space is BIG, because he states that the creature is detected "entering the solar system" and it's seemingly close to Earth only days later. Not to mention the fact that it supposedly travels between galaxies?
I mean, come on, people. My suspension of disbelief snapped about halfway through this book, and I had to struggle to finish it.
It's too bad, because some of the book was good. But overall, I can't recommend it.
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