Author: Alex Aster
Narrator: Suzy Jackson
Audiobook Length: 9 hours 2 minutes
Welcome to the Centennial.
Every 100 years, the island of Lightlark appears to host the Centennial, a deadly game that only the rulers of six realms are invited to play. The invitation is a summons—a call to embrace victory and ruin, baubles and blood. The Centennial offers the six rulers one final chance to break the curses that have plagued their realms for centuries. Each ruler has something to hide. Each realm’s curse is uniquely wicked. To destroy the curses, one ruler must die.
Isla Crown is the young ruler of Wildling—a realm of temptresses cursed to kill anyone they fall in love with. They are feared and despised, and are counting on Isla to end their suffering by succeeding at the Centennial.
To survive, Isla must lie, cheat, and betray…even as love complicates everything.
Lightlark has been going around at lightning speed on Booktok, which is how it landed on my radar. The reviews for this novel range greatly from those disliking it to those that love it with not a lot in between, which made me wary going into this. As this novel has been edited a lot to try and keep up with the hype, it made me wonder what the original manuscript entailed, and I would love to read it as this novel read like it has been altered. Readers will need to read it for themselves to draw their own conclusions, but there were small moments where it seemed the sentences were meant for one direction but went in a new one to fit the newer narrative. While some may interpret this as a twist/turn in the plot, it did not always read this way to me.
Six Realms have each been cursed for the past 500 years. Every 100 years, the island of Lightlark appears and the ruler from each realm competes in the Centennial to break their realm’s curse. Isla Crown, the ruler of the Wildlings (temptresses), is competing for the first time. Her and another ruler named Celeste, who is also Isla’s friend, are the youngest to attend. There are two love interests in this story, Grim, another ruler, and Oro, the king of Lightlark.
Isla is naïve and short-sighted due to her desire to win the Centennial and her sheltered past. While her realm, including herself, are supposed to be skilled warriors, I wished there was backstory to build to this rather than her be perfect at it from the start. For me, I need a lot more backstory and showing to connect rather than telling. This was the case for multiple elements in the novel where there was a lot of telling rather than showing. The romances were okay, but, again, I needed a lot more shared moments to invest in either love interest.
The pacing of the story begins by dropping the reader straight into the Centennial. It builds up the competition, the rules, and the rulers involved before adding in the additional subplots and character journeys. For me, it slowed greatly in the middle before picking up a lot towards the end and I would have preferred a little more build-up rather than an almost sudden jolt at the end. I believe the author’s other series is middle grade, which makes this her transition into young adult. For me, I think this novel read more towards middle grade with the wording choices and general sentence structure. There are multiple words that were overused in the writing, including, “mean” and “thing.” While I love reading middle grade, too, I just was expecting a little more “young adult” style writing and, for me, this one needs a little more to make that full transition.
While Booktok may have aided in the hype of this novel and has the potential to raise awareness of a new release, I believe it did more harm than good for this novel. There were many posts about this novel with moments that were supposed to be in the writing but did not make the ARC version (they may still end up in the final or second publication). With the audiobook, I am also confused as to the main character is “Is-la” or “I-la,” as I believe it should be the latter, but the narrator read it as the former, so I hope this is clarified in final versions.
As Universal has preemptively gained the rights to turn this novel into a film, I will be very curious to watch it come to life on the big screen. Usually, I am not a fan of recent adaptions, but I think translating the novel to a script can help remedy some of the issues I had while reading to streamline the experience. The general concept was intriguing as it was the execution that was not quite there for me. I can see the potential in this series, but now I am on the fence about reading the sequel. As reader thoughts are all over the place, my thoughts may not match some readers, so it is best if readers try this novel out for themselves.
**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this entertaining novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**