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Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski

Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
Book Name: Nightfall
Author: Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski
Publisher(s): G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Formatt: Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): YA Horror
Release Date: September 22, 2015

I tore through Nightfall by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski in about two hours, which should give you an idea of its readability. The book drew me in right away, with no unnecessary exposition. It opens with our young heroine, Marin, standing at the edge of a windswept cliff with an ominous old man. I like the trope of an old man or woman making vague, doom-laden pronouncements so this worked for me as a fairly obvious way of introducing the tone of the book.

Nightfall is a dark fantasy set in a world where the sun only rises and sets once every twenty-eight years. Marin, her twin brother Kana, and their friend Line are all too young to have ever seen the sun set before. They know that they have to leave their island home to sail for the Desert Lands, but they don’t know why, and they don’t know why the adults insist on cleaning everything before they go. They only know that covered by water at the base of the cliffs they found the statue of a woman screaming, holding a shield that says “The houses must be without stain.” The houses will simply ice over and freeze during the fourteen years of their absence, so why does it matter whether or not the table is set? Why must they scrub stains from the floors and remove the locks from their doors? Most of all, why does no one question these rules?

The buildup was masterfully done. Line is the eldest in his household after his parents’ deaths, and he takes care of his younger brother. He hasn’t even started the cleaning process, so Marin comes over to help him. They discover three terrifying stuffed heads that have to hang on the wall – heads that look like nothing they’ve ever seen before. As various members of the community make worried or ominous pronouncements, the three teenagers get more and more frustrated.

Finally it’s time to leave the island for the Desert Lands, home of Marin and Kana’s mother. In the confusion of getting themselves down to the docks Marin and Kana realize that Line is missing. They find his younger brother Francis, and realize that Line went out to look for a necklace Marin lost in the woods several days earlier. He should be back by now, but Marin and Kana know where he went, and they decide to go after him.

The tension ramps up and up as Marin and Kana rush to find Line in the dark woods. Kana can see in the dark, although he is blind in sunlight, but Marin can’t see a thing. As they rush through the woods Marin thinks she hears something moving behind them, but before she can do anything about it they find Line stuck in a crevasse. He’s injured, and by the time they get him out they’re too late to get back to the ships, and they get left behind.

As the three teenagers set out to find a way to catch up to the departing ships, the sun sets, and the island transforms. Mysterious and terrifying creatures stalk them as they flee across the island, trying desperately to find a way to get to the retreating ships. Although it’s a slower buildup than most thrillers I’ve read, once the action starts it never slows down. Just reading it gave me a jolt of adrenaline as Marin, Line, and Kana escape huge wild boar, giant rats, and the ever-present, never-seen hunters that stalk them just out of sight.

Their external struggle to survive mirrors their separate internal struggles. Line feels guilty for leaving his brother, plus he was injured when he fell down the crevasse and must keep up with the others even as he gets more and more feverish. Marin has a secret – the necklace Line went back into the woods to look for has been with her all along. And Kana is hiding something he doesn’t understand, something dangerous, something that could save them or destroy them, depending on what he chooses.

It all comes to a head when a strangely familiar woman’s voice tells them to make for a hidden cave, where they will find a boat to take them down the river to the sea. With their options running out and Line’s fever getting worse they decide to trust her, and so begins another mad dash through the woods. Did you think the stakes were as high as they could be? Think again! Kana’s secret threatens to tear them apart, they get lost, it starts snowing, and they can hear the hunters in the woods around them.

It’s a story about family and survival, and the terror of the dark. Do you remember being a child and calling for your mother to check for monsters behind the curtains, or under the bed, or in the closet? I was terrified of the panther that lived under my bedside table, and the huge black snake that coiled under the dresser when the lights went out. Nightfall brings those childhood fears to life in a large way – how much worse do fears grow when there is no relief for fourteen years? One of the most poignant moments for me was near the end of the book, when Marin reflects that perhaps none of the adults warned them what waited on the island at night because none of them wanted to know.

Nightfall is a little tropey, but the pace is great and the monsters are scary, and there were a few plot choices that took me totally by surprise in a good way. I loved watching Kana’s character development, and Marin’s resourcefulness in the face of overwhelming adversity was a delight. Line felt underdeveloped in comparison, but I can forgive this because he’s not a main character in the same way. In terms of personal storyline, he’s there to help move the plot along and up the stakes, but he doesn’t battle the same kind of demons Marin and Kana have to deal with. If this were a movie I’d watch it with popcorn, and as a book I couldn’t stop reading. Bring it to the beach if you’re a nervous reader, or hide under your blankets with a flashlight for maximum scary factor. Just don’t get caught out with it after dark, or whatever’s in the woods might come out.



  1. Yora says:

    Sounds very good, though I only made it halfway through the review before I started to skim over the rest very quickly because it almost seems to give everything away.

    • Sonia Grace says:

      Hi there! Just wanted to drop you a quick note of reassurance – although I did include a few VERY minor spoilers in this review, nothing vital has been revealed. All the summarizing I did is from the first couple of chapters, and serves to set up the main story. Happy reading!

  2. John Kelly says:

    Surprised no mention that this is directly from Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall short story, in which a planet with 6 suns never experiences night except once every 2,000 years when there is a full eclipse. And society collapses.

    One of the most famous SF stories ever written.

    I don’t begrudge the authors doing something new with it. Sounds as though they wrote a good book.

    But I do hope they tipped their hat to one [the] grand masters somewhere in there.

    • Sonia Grace says:

      They went a very different direction with this one, though obviously I assume the title is a direct homage. Aside from the general fear of night pervading the village, and the feeling of ritual surrounding the preparations to leave the town I didn’t feel that it was particularly similar. Asimov’s Nightfall is very much a psychological story. There are no actual monsters, the fear comes from a complete lack of knowledge or experience of what darkness is and can do. In this book the danger is more physical. Everyone knows that the darkness will only last for fourteen years, and then the sun will come back and they can return to the island. The fear that permeates the world in Asimov’s story just doesn’t exist here. There’s no danger of going mad from the dark, just a danger of dying when the island changes, because there are actual, deadly monsters, and no one really knows who they are or what they do.

      I met Jake Halpern at NYCC this year, and we chatted about Nightfall at some length. I don’t remember him mentioning anything about an intentional homage to Asimov, though I can’t imagine he and Peter Kujawinski were unaware of the story. It is, after all, one of the classics. But he talked more about fear of the dark as it relates to the horror genre, not sci-fi. The two stories are so different that I’d believe it was a case of a similar idea occurring to more than one person and manifesting in different ways. After all, fear of the dark is universal, and authors have written about it forever.

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