I usually don’t start my reviews with a treatise on science, but as biological beings we are so tied to our circadian rhythms that disturbing them by hours can have profound effects on us. Just ask anyone who move from say, New York to the Arctic Circle. I have always found chronobiology fascinating, and that was one of the first things that drew me toNightfallby Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski. The good news is that there is more to this book than a clever premise.
On the island of Bliss fourteen years of day is followed by fourteen of night. Because of the coldness of the Night, and the fact that the tide rolls out for hundreds of miles, the islanders migrate to the Desert Lands of the South. Not only do the islanders have to pack for the long trip but they have rituals that must be, and have always been performed for time immemorial, such as sweeping out their houses, setting the tables, and hanging unused decorations on the walls. The rituals are bizarre but the elder islanders insist that they must be done.
Marin, her nearly-blind twin brother Kana, and their friend, Line, whose parents have recently died, have spent their entire lives on the island, and know nothing else. Once inseparable tensions have been rising between them as Marin and Line find themselves increasingly attracted to each other. The day of departure Line is missing, having gone off to find a necklace belonging to Marin. Everyone is frantically boarding the ships, so Marin and Kana end up searching for Line. They find him injured, and by the time they return everyone is gone, and the three teens find themselves alone on the abandoned island with temperatures falling, and the weather growing worse by the minute. Even worse the only other person, a vagrant in town, has been murdered, and a single message has been left for them, stuck to the Mayor’s door. It says “HIDE.” Also a voice that Kana thought that he had heard only in a dream seems to be frighteningly real.
I can’t really reveal much more without dropping some huge spoilers, but the authors do an excellent job of wringing every ounce of tension they can from this set-up. The culture and customs are of the island’s inhabitants are subtly eerie in the beginning of this novel, and by the time they are isolated Nightfall is downright creepy. Once they begin to realize the depth of the mess they are in the plot has unveiled a ton of twists and turns, while still moving at a quick pace. While the build-up is stellar, the pay-off never really lives up to its expectations. I know that the protagonists are teens, but even so they make a ton of questionable decisions that left me scratching my head. At the same time they all take a beating that would make Indiana Jones cry and just keep on ticking.
The characters are solid but never really spring to life, except for Soraya, who shows up late and still manages to steal the show. The fate of the characters, and what may be waiting for them down the road is left hanging a bit, but I found the actual end of the novel satisfying. Nightfall is creepy and tense, but if the atmosphere in the beginning of the book could have carried over to the end it would have been a knockout.