A single light

The explosive conclusion of ‘The line between’.

A Single Light. Howard Pub Co, 2019.

‘A single light’ is the continuation of ‘The line between’. We left Wynter, the main character, running away from Magnus and the cult he was the leader of, with the world on the brink of a lethal pandemic no one knows much of, except it’s deadly. Herself, Chase, her boyfriend, and Truly, her niece, found shelter in Noah’s underground silo, west of the city of Gurney. It’s now day  14 of the 180 days their permanence will actually last. The three of them, along with another group of 61 people, are literally locked in: on the double doors that lead in and out there is a computer timer that will not open until the countdown ends, not even if tampered with. In that case, it will probably not open at all. 

Inside, Wynter became Winnie: this is the closest she can get to her real name without pronouncing it. They don’t know who might know something or not, and they can’t risk it.

In the bunker, the artificial lights are set to create the illusion of a passing day: there is the sunrise and the sunset, and a big, black screen that shows a starry night sky. It helps for a while, even if it displays always a bright, sunny June day, even when they are celebrating Christmas. At midnight precisely Noah appears on the screen. Since the door needed to be locked both from the inside and the outside at the same time, he was the one who got out. He now talks to his people from an office above surface. At 5.30 each day he records a message, that will be later broadcast to the people inside. But his latest video messages is cut short, and he appears to be leaving in a rush. The compound tries to find an explanation, decides to wait until the next day, and then grows impatient when, as midnight approaches, there is no sign of Noah.

Day 29, still no sign of Noah or the outside, while on the inside there is a raging war of speculations and different possible scenarios. The morale is low and the inhabitants, inevitably, start to panic and take it against each other. The tension is palpable, different people want different things, and the attempt of one of the guests to open the door while another guest tries to stop them, ends up with the death of one of them, Braden, reducing the number from 63 to 62. After a brief and summary process, it’s unanimously decided that Piper, the culprit deserved capital punishment. She is escorted inside the walk-in freezer and tied against a pole. But Jay, her husband, incapable of accepting the fate she chose for herself, gets into the freezer too. Only 60 people are now left in the silo.

Eventually, they find out about Wynter too. There is an article on someone’s phone, the last one before they locked themselves in, titled ‘MURDER SUSPECT DISAPPEARS WITH PROMISING RESEARCH’ but since there is no broadband, the image can’t be uploaded. They ask Truly, who confirms that yes, Winnie’s name is Wynter. It takes them a second to put two and two together and Wynter is sedated and locked in the pen that was built after the first of them died, to be used as a makeshift jail cell. Wynter is forced to tell her story – her life in the compound, how she escaped it thanks to the manipulations of her sister, who did it to save Truly, how she delivered the samples of the infected pigs’ brains to a vet, how she is escaping from justice but telling the truth. No one wants to believe she is innocent and that she means no harm. Chase gives his mates his phone and tells them to look at the pictures and some files he stored on them, proving Wynter is innocent. The reason why he knows is that he is a bounty hunter and his encounter with Wynter wasn’t casual at all.

The compound finally believes her, bus the fracture between Chase and Wynter is inevitable. It’s only fair that she starts to question all the things he said, including his profession of love. They settle for a polite co-existence, where they don’t speak to each other unless it’s strictly necessary.

The Open Day is closer, and they all start to make plans about how they will resume their lives outside, thinking what is expecting them out there and how to act when the doors open: will there be vaccines? Will it be a nuclear winter instead? A few days before the doors are supposed to open, an alarm starts ringing, and they all get worried. What’s happening? If the doors open before time who will cross them, friends or foes? They gather their weapons and wait. But when nothing happens, they decide to bolt into action and go out, forcing the doors open. It’s 3 in the morning in the outside world and four of them, including Wynter and Chase gear up to see what’s going on.

The first thing they notice is the absence of traces of Noah, or any of his neighbours. Chase and Winter set off to reach the nearest town, but along the way they only find desolation, not a single soul and spray-painted counts of victims in that particular house or church or if the place hosts infected people. It’s scary and disheartening, but they keep going. They eventually encounter Otto, a boy who, according to a message left by his dead father, is different but not bad. The only different thing about him, as they will soon discover, is the fact that he’s a mute, but he can actually interact with them, either by pointing at things or scribbling short messages on the notepad he carries around. They offer him to join them and he accepts. At a certain point Otto shows them a drawing he made of Noah. Otto is a local boy, and he knows about Noah and the silo. He’s also funny, smart and very sweet, and both Chase and Wynter take a liking to him, they kind of become a little family, until they cross a small gang dressed like vigilantes that shot him. As sad as it is, there is nothing left to do to save him and Chase and Wynter have to continue their journey.

It won’t be the last encounter they have with peril for the rest of the book, but eventually each problem will find its solution.

As in ‘The line between’, this book is packed with back to back action, plot twists, characters that we love and lose and amazing scenes that too often hit too close home. As Lee herself points out in the final acknowledgments, during the final edits of the book, her Nebraska home was hit by a bomb cyclone, delivering blizzards to the west and water to the east. As scary as the experience was, it did give her some writing material. As usual, her prose is neat and her dialogues witty, the pace is fast but never rushed and the characters are lovely, even though this instalment is perhaps a little less gripping that the other, probably because of the plot itself: the fact that Wynter and Chase spend more than half a book travelling, hiding and escaping chips away at complex descriptions and feelings. However, this book is yet another incredible page-turner, gripping from the first to the last page.

Read our review of ‘The line between’ here.

To find out more about Tosca Lee’s work, visit her website.

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