Book Review: A Gleam of Light by TJ and ML Wolf

A Gleam of Light (The Survival Trilogy #1)A Gleam of Light by T.J. Wolf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Gleam of Light has many of the elements of a first-rate thriller: a sympathetic protagonist, mystery, conflict, and a fascinating backdrop. It’s clear that a great deal of thought and research has gone into this book. These elements, however, need to be put together differently to keep the reader really turning its pages.

With respect to the characters, Una Waters is an appealing heroine. The deaths of her parents and her estrangement from her ancestral tribe and lands give the potential for a very moving character arc as the story unfolds. Unfortunately much of her backstory is “told” rather than “shown,” as are the revelations that this or that plot development “changed her life.” Colin and Jack are also intriguing characters, but are underdeveloped in various ways. I’d like to know more about Una’s unfinished business with her childhood friends, her life in DC after her parents were killed, and how Colin rose to the rank of general at such a young age (if he was a bratty child on the opening plane flight, he couldn’t be much older than Una herself). In general I wanted to know what Colin and Una saw in each other. In over 300 pages I didn’t get a good sense of what any of these characters really looked like, let alone what specific mannerisms of speech or behavior they might have as adults.

In addition to those three main characters, there are just too many secondary characters in this book to keep track of. Many have unusual names, and they surface briefly only to disappear again for long stretches, or forever. The archaeologist seems to exist only to provide info dumps about tribal cultures and UFO sightings. And this may be just personal taste, but I don’t need to see the “surprisingly precocious genius child wows adults with unexplained alien knowledge” trope in SF ever again. Or if I do, it needs to come with a really unique twist, which it doesn’t here.

This book opens with “You have to believe in gods to see them.” –Hopi proverb. I’m a skeptic by nature. I don’t watch the X-files and I am impatient with conspiracy theories. That being said, I enjoy reading and watching Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I am happy to suspend my disbelief to immerse myself in a well-imagined, well-written fictional universe. In order for the universe in this book to function that way for me, it needed more suspenseful plotting and a more climactic ending. It also needed to integrate the authors’ painstaking research more seamlessly. Instead, its tone and setting waver unsatisfyingly between gray realism and New Age spaceyness. I am an outsider to Hopi culture, so I trust that the research and cultural anthropology in this book are authentic, but I don’t know if that is the case. I became more confused and overwhelmed than awestruck by everything that was discovered during the journey into the cave. This material might make a better screenplay than novel, because I got the sense that the characters were seeing something that I wasn’t. I also didn’t understand why the main events of that journey had to remain secret at the end, except that this is the first book in a trilogy. This is a worthy effort but the authors may have bitten off more than they can chew.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: A Gleam of Light by TJ and ML Wolf”

  1. Hey there KL! I found your blog today, and I’m nominating you for That’s So Jacob’s March Blog Madness! It’s simple: find five interesting blogs today, copy and paste this comment to theirs, and give them a follow! Have a great day and if you’re so inclined, kindly come visit me over at Have fun spreading the blog love this month!

    PS – geocacher here with about 2100 finds 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ve gone way faster than me. I just checked, and even though I haven’t found one since January 4 (the day before I came back home to Wisconsin after winter break – geocaching season here is just barely starting) but I’m at 2263 at the moment. I started in 2003 (!) as a high school student who couldn’t even drive but stopped upon graduating in 2005 at about 500 finds, and really didn’t start up again until 2011 when I started grad school and was living in Houston where there’s a geocache seemingly every 500 feet with new ones popping up every day and at least 3 events happening in various places around the city each week. Here in semi-rural Wisconsin, there are only about 4000 geocaches within 50 miles of me that I haven’t found, and a lot of them are either premium-only (there’s been a muggling problem here, and a lot of the prolific hiders switched all of their hides over from standard to premium last year), extremely difficult terrain, complicated mystery puzzles, or not there anymore, so in order to get a decent day of 5 or 10+ caches I have to drive to someplace like Milwaukee or West Bend, both of which are at least 90 minutes away. In addition, some of the 4000 within 50 miles are in places that have terrible reception; for example, if I drive west towards Iowa, it’s basically a giant dead zone (except for in the town of Platteville) until I reach the Mississippi River, which is at least 2 to 2.5 hours.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ve been fortunate to live in some of the best places for caches. The SF Bay area in particular has lots of caches and events. Alamogul, who has the world record for most finds, lives around here, as does Kablooey, who used to hold the record for longest consecutive-day streak. My husband and I are on a streak right now. I’m on day 446 today. Not sure if we’ll go beyond 555 days. That’s a number we need to qualify for a particular challenge cache, as well as all the ones that require a year or a leap year. It’s going to be both difficult and a relief to stop when the streak finally ends!


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