I enjoyed Shannon A. Thompson’s previous novel, Minutes Before Sunset, so I was glad to be given the opportunity to review Seconds Before Sunrise before its official release date. The two novels are part of an announced trilogy which chronicles the lives of three interconnected groups in Hayworth, Kansas: the Light, the Dark, and the Human.
The Dark and the Light have two forms—human and “mystical other”—and live in human communities, covertly hiding their supernatural forms. Those of the Light may seem beautiful to humans and have pretended to be god-like or angelic when appearing in the past, but demonstrate a terrifying capriciousness and cruelty in both novels. Those of the Dark, known as Shades, literally strive to protect the world from the burning, destructive power of the Light.
Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead
The protagonist, Eric, known as Shoman in his Shade form, has been training his whole life to battle a powerful warrior of the Light, Darthon, on Eric’s eighteenth birthday. This fight to the death fulfills a prophecy of ascendancy between the two factions, one which decides once and for all whether light or dark will dominate in the world.
In Minutes Before Sunset, it is one year before the prophesized battle; Eric meets Jessica, who moved back to Hayworth with her adoptive parents. Shoman sees her first as an unknown Shade, and then they meet in human form at the local high school. Because of the secretive nature the Dark needs to maintain, their romance develops in both forms but on separate paths. The reader knows the truth before Eric and Jessica recognize each other as both human and Shade combined. Their meeting, and romance, is tied to the prophecy and even though the personalities of humans differ from the Shades once they shift form, their romantic connection is undeniable.
It is an interesting choice to juxtapose a paranormal romance with the budding attraction felt by two seemingly typical high school students; but part of the brilliance in Thompson’s writing is the blending of the supernatural story world with the realistic setting of a small town, and she continues it in Seconds Before Sunrise. In some ways it would be easier to create a magical world where the author sets up all of the rules and lets the readers venture forth into the alternate reality with no expectations of the society other than those created on the page. Thompson, however, rises to the challenge in both novels and creates a supernatural setting in the middle of a mundane high school. There are rules and regulations, social norms and nuances, cliques and outsiders to contend with in the novel that will be familiar to anyone who has attended a high school in North America. Overlaying this is the struggle between Dark and Light—a literal battle between good and evil where the choices a character makes may have larger implications than at first apparent.
With so much secrecy inherent in all three societies, the two main characters do start wondering who they can trust, and the situations are not clear-cut. Are the acts part of the human condition, where some teenagers smoke, drink, and make otherwise poor choices, or are these circumstances somehow manipulated by the Light to make Shoman reveal himself before his eighteenth birthday? Is the gossip in school created by jealousy between the students, or is there someone driving the behavior? Is the prophecy accurate, or are there aspects that have been hidden from Eric and Jessica by the Elders? Readers can immerse themselves in these mysteries and discover where the truth lies along with the two characters.
The novels do not simply focus on aspects and intrigues that are paranormal, and therein lies the strength of the writing. Poor judgment can lead to death, whether through supernatural means or through a car crash. People can demonstrate their values through both service and sacrifice in their daily lives, or in mystical battles. Human beings can be just as powerful, and just as frail, as those who also inhabit the Dark and the Light.
Thompson has produced an enjoyable story where the characters continue to grow and evolve. After reading the first two parts of the trilogy, I cannot wait for the next to appear!
(Disclaimer: The author provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)