Written by: Alexandra Bracken
Release Date: October 28th 2014
Pages: 535, Hardcover
Series: The Darkest Minds, 3
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Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds.
They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife may destroy their only chance to free the “rehabilitation camps” housing thousands of other Psi kids.
Meanwhile, reunited with Liam, the boy she would-and did-sacrifice everything for to keep alive, Ruby must face the painful repercussions of having tampered with his memories of her. She turns to Cole, his older brother, to provide the intense training she knows she will need to take down Gray and the government. But Cole has demons of his own, and one fatal mistake may be the spark that sets the world on fire.
Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds trilogy is one of my biggest book surprises of 2014. I expected it to be a series I mildly enjoyed and forgot about as soon as it was over. I did not expect to fall so deeply in love with the characters and relationships, to stay up until 3 AM internally screaming over an action scene or crying after a particularly upsetting character death. This is a series that combines action and emotional intensity and beautiful, beautiful character interactions in a way that destroys me inside.
And In the Afterlight is no different. It was slower than the previous two books, true, but there was never a moment when I was not at least a little bit invested in the story. The book hit all the right emotional beats, the character development was handled wonderfully, I teared up multiple times, and honestly, the last hundred pages more than made up for any pacing issues in the first part.
Often, when books written in first person POV have a large ensemble cast, the protagonist is well developed, around two other characters are reasonably well-developed, and everyone else has one personality trait. This is not the case here at all. I cannot stress this enough–the characters are the best part of The Darkest Minds trilogy. Ruby, Liam, Chubs, Vida, Zu, Cole, Nico, even Clancy–they were all real and nuanced, and I felt like I knew them.
One last note: if you’ve read the first two books but not the novellas or In the Afterlight–READ THE NOVELLAS. They will make your reading experience a great deal more painful, I promise.
I mentioned the slower pacing before. It only bothered me a little bit, for reasons I mentioned previously, but I understand why it would bother other readers more. It can be disconcerting to adjust to after the constant stream of Things Happening in the first two books.
Also, tread lightly if you, like me, are extremely frustrated with couples in YA books whose many problems spur from the fact that they just can’t seem to talk to each other. In this case, it was understandable from the characters’ perspectives, at least, but I’ve seen the trope enough that at certain points I had to put the book down and take a few deep breaths.
I cannot reiterate enough how much I love Alexandra Bracken’s characters. Here, Vida and Zu stood out in particular. Vida is tough and loyal and bluntly honest and loves fiercely and deeply, and she is the source of some of the funniest and the most heartbreaking moments in the book. Zu is sweet and loving and resilient and she does something so incredibly brave that my heart bursts out of pride for her. I also ended up caring for Cole and his relationship with Ruby more than I expected; characters bonding over shared darkness is a favorite of mine. Of course, I can’t talk about the characters without mentioning Liam and Chubs and how much I wanted to hug both of them. And Ruby! What a wonderful, flawed, protagonist, struggling with the darkness inside her and the weight of leadership and learning to both protect and rely on her friends and growing stronger after every time she breaks. The series comes full circle at the end; it began with Ruby being delivered to Thurmond, and the final confrontation takes place in Thurmond. These parallels allow us to see how much Ruby has grown, and deepen my love for her so much more.
The found-family aspect of the series was what initially drew me into The Darkest Minds, and it was strong as ever here. The depth in the characters translated into organic and beautiful relationships, and the platonic dynamics were every bit as important as the romantic ones, though the romantic ones were pretty excellent as well. Vida sums it up really well in one of my favorite quotes:
People come in and out of our lives all the time. They can promise they’ll be right back, but you might never see them again. We got a good unit here, and you know why it’s so strong? Because we chose it. We made it. My sister, she wasn’t like your parents, but she still left me. The bitch called in my location for a reward, but I won’t let her win. I won’t give her the satisfaction of not letting myself trust anyone ever again. She didn’t choose me, and now I’m choosing a different family.
I hope that above snippet also shows you how great Alexandra Bracken’s writing is. It flows so well, and when you think you’re fine, it jumps out and surprises you with a description or a feeling that makes it hard to breathe for a second.
In addition to succeeding as a book, In the Afterlight succeeded as a finale. Everything that needed to be wrapped up was wrapped up, but not too neatly or perfectly–everyone still has a lot of fixing to do, and I have a feeling Chubs is going to be on the forefront of it all. Everything that needed to be explained was explained, in a way that made sense, without excessive infodumps. The ending left me satisfied with nearly everyone’s fate. When I read the last two pages, I was smiling like an idiot.
Definitely pick up! If you liked the first two books, you will like the finale. In the Afterlight was an intense, emotional ride and a beautiful ending to a series I love.