By KATIE STOCKDALE
Nightfall takes place on an island where night comes only once every 28 years. The book comes as the fourth novel from the writing pair of Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski, and is promised to be a thriller worthy of Neil Gaiman. With a unique take on world building and a strong narrator from the first sentence, it seems praiseworthy. But as the novel progresses the world building is neglected and the plot fails to take off.
The past few years on the island of Bliss have been Dusk, and everyone has been preparing to leave and travel south to wait out Night. There are rituals: locks must be taken off of doors, places must be set, old and terrifying decorations must be put out. And when Night falls, no one can be left behind.
But, the three main characters are left behind. This fairly obvious plot mechanism works at first; readers are drawn into the conflict siblings Marin and Kana have when they realize their friend Line is missing. Even though it is obvious that they will not make it back to the boats in time, Marin and Kana’s decision to go back for Line is, perhaps because of this, compelling.
They are able to rescue Line and make it out of the forest – where something is stirring – and make it to the cliffs just in time to see the boats disappear on the horizon. They are left standing among the abandoned possessions of their people, at the scene of an unorganized, violent departure watching their safety sail away. It’s a powerful image, but unfortunately, maybe the most powerful in the book.
After this, the three have to fight against the changing island to survive and conflicts hinted at earlier in the novel surface. Marin, who had always tagged along with her brother and his friend Line, is starting to steal the spotlight. Kana, for his part, is becoming extremely lonely, feeling abandoned by his sister, and is guarding his own secrets. And Line stands in the middle of this, becoming increasingly possessive of Marin.
These conflicts, and the hints of the supernatural creatures waking from the forest, could have turned into a strong plot. Instead, they fall short. The conflicts between the friends are wearisome rather than engaging and Line becomes insensitive, almost misogynistic. Kana’s secret, which is so carefully hinted at and uncovered through the first half of the book, fizzles out in the end. Marin’s own worries about going south and being forced to join her mother’s culture are never resolved. And the confrontation with the ‘monsters’ of the story, lasts for only three chapters.
The biggest issue with the book is that nothing is tied together. This is shown in the preparations for Night and again in the forest scenes. There’s no why. And by the end of the book, it becomes clear that the ‘monster forest’ could be out of the book and come to the same conclusion with nothing missing. Nothing is learned. The protagonists are set up to be complex but are not fully developed. There is no complexity to the ‘monsters’ and no answer to why anything happens.
Overall, especially as it is a stand-alone novel, the story feels incomplete. There’s so much build up for nothing. It’s like going out to a restaurant that promises an amazing dessert, waiting for the whole meal, and getting a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Unless Nightfall starts off a series, there’s little point reading it. Stopping halfway through would create the same feeling as reading until the end.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org