Thursday, January 15, 2015

In The After Light by Alexandra Bracken

The third and final installment in the Darkest Minds series sees the Psi children finally force the people of America and the rest of the world to acknowledge the truth of the camps what the government has really been doing to the IAAN children. The truth about the source of IAAN is finally revealed as well as a potential cure.

The novel opens with the events right after the bombing of Los Angeles by the American Government. President Gray attacked the Children's League and the Federal Coalition of former politicians after the possible involvement of both organizations in the assassination attempt on him. The Children's League had a headquarters in Los Angeles and this led to the city being bombed by the government. Following the bombing, the US Army and National Guard  have created a secure "perimeter around downtown Los Angeles using the elaborate freeway system." so as to prevent the rogue agents and the Psi children from leaving the city. Ruby, sent out on her own by the former Children's League agents, has ambushed a soldier,and using her abilities has searched through her mind, discovering gaps in the freeway's defenses.

The Los Angeles headquarters has been badly bombed, but many have survived including Cole, Liam, Vida, Chubbs and of course Clancy Gray.  Ruby believes they now need to leave LA as quickly as possible. Internment camps are located throughout the city with government troops picking up anyone they can find. Cate Connor and other agents are now missing, possibly having fled LA or possibly being held in one of the camps.

What's left of the league has moved location every few days and must search constantly for water and food. While preparing to return to their hiding, Ruby comes across three agents, Ferguson, Gates and Sen who are eating the food they found rather than bringing it back to the seventeen kids in hiding. Ruby overhears them talking about turning in the kids when they get out of LA to get the reward money to fund their next attack on President Gray. Ruby realizes that she must tell Cole.

In the warehouse where they are hiding, Liam, Cole, Vida, Chubbs, Nico are there waiting. They meet Anabel Cruz who is the Federal Coalition's International Liaison and who was meeting with Amplify, a underground news organization, when the attacks on Los Angeles began. Cole took her in after the reporter she was with was killed. Senator Cruz is interested in helping them and Cole believes she can help them get the truth out about the camps.

Ruby informs the group that not all the freeways are actually manned and that some have been set up with empty vehicles and floodlights. After Ruby marks their locations on a city map, Sen and Gates try to stall the group from leaving, but Cole is insistent that they leave early in the morning.  Ruby tells agent Cole Stewart, about the other agents plans to turn over the kids. Cole who is an agent who has kept is Psi abilities a secret, tells Ruby that he has had two Greens commit to memory the details of the research into IANN. He has been unable to read the research because he is concerned that the other agents might suspect his secret abilities. Cole tells her that they need to separate from the agents; they are going to the Ranch but she must enter the minds of each of the rogue agents and convince them that the Ranch is indefensible and that they are going to go to Kansas HQ.

They divide into four teams and split up between three different exits. Team A has Cole, Ruby, Liam, Vida and Clancy Gray who because of his ability to influence the minds of others will be with Ruby. Senator Cruz and Nico travel with other groups leaving the city. They manage to slip through the perimeter and hot wire two vehicles to travel to Lodi, south of Sacramento. One vehicle contains Cole, Ruby and Clancy while the second SUV Ford Explorer carries Liam, Chubbs and Vida. In Burbank, Liam's SUV is hit by a military Humvee which causes it to roll over. Cole destroys the Humvee with fire, killing one soldier and badly beating the other. Liam has a dislocated shoulder while Chubbs has his prescription glasses mangled.

They continue on, placing Liam, Chubbs and Vida into the bed of the red pickup truck. At this time Ruby realizes that Clancy probably knows that Cole is a Red (only Ruby knows) because he will have recognized the tell-tale physical tic Cole often exhibits. She also realizes that Clancy manipulated Cole into destroying the Humvee and killing the soldier. When she sees that Clancy begins to manipulate Cole again, she physically knocks him out. Cole begins to understand what happened and is so furious he drugs Clancy. He is also concerned that if the others discover that he is a Red they will never trust him but Ruby tells him they must keep Clancy drugged until they reach the Ranch and then keep him segregated.

In the small town of Mojave, the group notices "road code" a system of graffiti providing directions to  travel safely which the kids from East River developed. The crescent moon shape meant a safe place to rest or sleep. Then names are those kids who have passed through the area. Eventually Ruby clues in that letters are those of Kylie, Lucy, Zu and Hina from East River and she follows the road code to a deserted overgrown mountain home. There they find Zu and a large group of children who have been hiding out in the home for some time. Zu is so traumatized by what has happened that she doesn't speak. Ruby, Cole and the large group continue on to Lodi.

In Lodi they discover that the Ranch is a series of deep underground tunnels  as well as some above ground garages and buildings. They learn that most of the agents at the Ranch, with the exception of Cate, left to move to the Kansas HQ when they were contacted by the Los Angeles agents  (the ones Ruby influenced). They not only left but took most of the food and other supplies with them including the servers. They also learn that the flash drive with the research from Leda Corporation about the causes of IAAN was destroyed when the EMP hit Los Angeles. Cate decides to go after the agents who left but Cole and Ruby believe this is not a good idea.

The kids settle into the Ranch and Clancy is placed in isolation where he is only to be seen by either Cole or Ruby. He begins provoking Ruby, asking her if she knows what's happening at Thurmond. He tells her that the cure is merely another way to control the Psi children.
"It's not some magic bandage that's going to heal all wounds. It's not going to erase the stigma of what we are in their minds. If there aren't side effects, they'll always be waiting, watching, praying that we don't relapse..."

Life is tense at the Ranch for many reasons. Ruby is frustrated at the loss of the flashdrive and the research on the cause of IAAN and begins sleepwalking. Liam and Cole struggle to get along, each keeping secrets from the other. Nico manages to access Clancy's server after Ruby seemingly tricks Clancy into revealing the password and they discover that Thurmond is slated to be closed with the kids being moved out. Cole tells Ruby they need to hit the camp before it is shut down if they are to prove to the world that they are not for rehabilitation but for abuse and mistreatment. They decide in order to prepare for the liberation of Thurmond, they must do a hit on a smaller camp to make sure the plan is workable.  Cole decides on Oasis, the camp where Senator Cruz's daughter Rosa is being kept.

Senator Cruz arranges for gas and ammunition to be brought in from Canada while Ruby and Cole continue working on the plan to attack Thurmond before the beginning of March. They decide to send several kids into Oasis ahead of the actual attack so they know the layout of the camp. Nico who has been monitoring online videos learns that Cate as well as Sen and Johnston have been captured by the US military. The video of Cate's capture has been put out by Amplify and this leads Liam to begin leaning towards putting out videos of the camp situation rather than using the children to attack the camps.

Meanwhile Ruby learns that Dr. Gray is still alive and that she is being held with the Children's League at an unknown location. When they learn where she is being held two teams are sent out, one to retrieve Dr. Gray and one to liberate the Psi children from Oasis. But these operations reveal more and more obstacles to overcome; freeing Dr. Gray's mind from the damage Clancy did and dealing with Reds who are now guarding Thurmond and who have attacked the Kansas HQs. When tragedy strikes one of the teams sent out to check on a camp of Reds, Ruby comes to the stark realization of what Clancy's been up to. Too late to save herself, Ruby enters Thurmond to take down the camp.

In The After Light, Bracken brings the Darkest Minds series to a satisfying conclusion, tying up loose ends and filling in missing details. The novel ends on a hopeful note, the children freed but still fighting for their right to live their own lives, in light of what was done to them.

The novel takes its title from a response Ruby gives Nico when he asks her what the future looks like. She remembers looking past the razor wire at Thurmond so she could remember that there was a world outside the camp. Cole said the future looked like an open road - a prophecy that is fulfilled at the end of the book. But Ruby tells Nico "'I see it in colors....A deep blue, fading into golds and reds -- like fire on a horizon. Afterlight. It's a sky that wants you to guess if the sun is about to rise or set."

Perhaps the greatest strength of the novel, besides its engaging story, is the wonderful characters Bracken creates and develops through the series. Ruby, Cole, Liam, Vida, Chubbs, Zu, Clancy and Nico are all fully developed characters whom the reader becomes totally invested in. There are several budding romances in the novel, strong conflicts between Cole and Liam and between Ruby and Nico, and the tragedy of Zu who is so traumatized she can't speak. All of this makes the characters and the story very realistic.

Ruby is a wonderfully strong protagonist who never loses her human side despite all the suffering she's experienced. She's determined to free the children from the camps, to understand what caused IAAN and to learn about the possible cure that Lillian Gray had found. Other than his mother, Ruby, more than anyone,  recognizes the danger Clancy Gray poses. And it becomes even more evident in the third novel why Lillian Gray was so determined to find a cure for her son.

Clancy Gray is the tragic anti-hero in the novel. He is manipulative and determined to retain his power to control people until the very end - even after he receives the invasive cure he so dreaded.  He tells Ruby, "...I can figure a way around this, how to deactivate the device she planted there. How to get everything back. I can do it. I'm closer to the right people than ever. I can find my father, wherever he's hiding. I can do it." This leads Ruby to act out of mercy, rather than how she knows Clancy would have behaved towards her.
Despite Clancy's desire to control others around him, his ideas about the Psi children and how the world will treat them end up being accurate. During one of their encounters at the Ranch, Clancy told Ruby that the cure will destroy who they are and that it is an invasive procedure. He told her that "Now isn't the time to change yourself to fit into the world...You should be changing the world to accept you. To let you exist as you are, without being cut open and damaged." When the camps are disbanded and the country begins its recovery, Senator Cruz announces that Dr. Lillian Gray will perform the live-saving operation to neutralize the Psi abilities, free of charge. However those  Psi-afflicted citizens who do not have it will have to live apart from society in special communities. This infuriates Chubbs, who is an advisor to Cruz, and he stands up for their rights as citizens and in light of what was done to them.

The novel is very long and sometimes tedious with its detail, but readers will be rewarded with a great story that has plenty of tragedy, a touch of romance, and some deeply touching moments. The novel explores the themes of identity, forgiveness and acceptance. The Darkest Minds series is one of the best dystopian young adult series since The Hunger Games.

In The After Light will likely be made into a movie, likely by 2016. If the movie adaptations are done in a manner similar to The Hunger Games series, faithful to the novels with good casting, they will be excellent.

Book Details:
In The After Light by Amanda Bracken
Los Angeles: Hyperion          2014
535 pp.

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