A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: September 29, 2020
A Neon Darkness is actually my first visit to Lauren Shippen’s world. I was impressed with how easily I was able to step into it, even without the benefit of having read her first book, The Infinite Noise, or listening to any episodes of The Bright Sessions.
The story centers on Rob Gorham, a young man who has the ability to manipulate people to do what he wants. In its more overt uses, his targets act more or less like the subject of a Jedi mind trick, going blank-faced and doing whatever he asked, no matter how unreasonable. Rob never has to worry about money, as he can easily get people to let him stay at the fanciest hotels and apartments free of charge. But in its more subtle uses, Rob’s powers manifest by making people more open about themselves when he’s curious about them. Or it makes them more interested in being friends with him. This leaves Rob in the uncomfortable position of never knowing if he’s truly forming a bond with someone or if it’s just his powers doing what they naturally do. As Rob meets Neon and Indah—the first people he’s ever known to also possess superhuman abilities—it feels like he’s finally found a place to belong. But his obsession with controlling his environment constantly threatens to jeopardize his newfound friendships, leading to a realistic struggle between his desire to be accepted and his desire to live in a world where he knows people’s feelings about him are genuine.
The cast is a bit on the older side for a young adult novel. Rob is the only one who’s technically a teenager—eighteen at the start of the book; nineteen for the majority of it. His struggle to find where he fits into the world and what he wants out of it, however, is a classic YA theme that I think many readers will connect to. The characters are all very well-developed, even if the logic of their choices came off as a bit sketchy at times. For example, Neon never realizes as a teenager that her electrical powers need somewhere safe to discharge now and again. (If static electricity can be discharged when too much builds up, it seems at least worth trying the same with magical electricity.) These flaws in character logic aren’t frequent enough to disrupt the story, and most of them happen when the characters are under extreme stress, making them a bit more understandable.
Overall, I enjoyed this quieter, more realistic take on the superhuman genre, and I’m curious to give the podcast a try.
Rating: 4 out of 5
You can find A Neon Darkness on Goodreads
You can also buy A Neon Darkness (The Bright Sessions, 2) on Amazon. (Affiliate link)