Book Review: “If the Light Escapes” by Brenda Marie Smith

At the end of Brenda Marie Smith’s novel, If Darkness Takes Us, things were looking up for Bea Crenshaw—but only in the sense that life had nowhere to go but up.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. Good things happened, but I can’t tell you what they are without spoiling the story. But Bea’s Austin, Texas neighborhood—and for all they know the rest of the world—is still without power. Food is scarce. Water is scarcer.

The gang from If Darkness… is all there with one or two exceptions (again—no spoilers!) and Bea’s grandson, Joaquin—aka Keno—is doing his damndest to pick up where Bea left off. Bea’s still around, but her age and medical issues have caught up with her and she’s in no shape to help.

Keno is only eighteen but he feels like it’s his job to take on his grandmother’s role as head of the family. He, along with his Uncle David and other neighborhood members coordinate patrols, manage growing crops in what used to be local parks and back yards, ration water, share tools and labor, and basically fight to stay alive. His wife, Alma, is right there beside him, never mind the danger to herself or their unborn child.

But not everyone is cooperating. Keno’s grandfather, mother, and aunt live in what is now know as The Mint—the house Bea had converted into a giant survival resource w-a-a-a-a-y before the sun went ballistic. Keno’s mother blames Keno for what happened to his sister, Tasha. She and his aunt hate Bea for what she did to their father. And Grandpa? He’s pissed at Bea for what he sees as betrayal, and for keeping her fortune and stash at the Mint a secret from him. Now that he’s living there he’ll be damned if he shares any of the resources that are supposed to be available to the whole neighborhood. His behavior has become so erratic that Keno and David worry that he’s suffering from dementia.

If that isn’t enough, gangs and looters from outside the neighborhood threaten their survival. Although everyone who is able helps out with nightly patrols, it doesn’t seem like enough. The outsiders are more desperate than Keno and his neighbors: they have no food, no supplies, no means of survival and they aren’t hesitant to steal what the neighborhood has worked so hard to get.

And did I mention the lights? The Aurora Borealis appears nearly every night, illuminating the sky with colors that aren’t supposed to be visible this far south of the North Pole. What the hell is it doing in Texas?

Nothing good, that’s for sure.

Like in any good novel, events begin to go downhill. Weather, gangs, and bat-shit crazy Grandpa threaten to undo what Keno and his neighbors have fought so hard to achieve, the sun erupts with another giant hiccup, and it feels to Keno like there’s no point in trying any more. As a gang of fatigue-wearing outsiders prepares to attack, Keno decides the only way to survive is for him and his neighbors to attack first.

You know I’m not going to tell you what happens next. Because, spoilers. If you want to know you’re just going to have to read the story.

If you’ve already read If Darkness Takes Us you’ll be impressed by how Smith so expertly takes the sequel to the next level. If you haven’t (and If the Light Escapes can be read as a stand-alone), you’ll love her storytelling abilities just as much.

I gave If Darkness Takes Us five stars. Can I give If the Light Escapes five-and-a-half?

Note: I received an e-ARC copy of If the Light Escapes in return for an honest review.

*Image Credit: Lizabeth Engelmeier

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