For two years Nicky has wandered the dark empty corridors of the overgrown Thorn Hall, unseen and untouched, feeling like a ghost. His only company, the cold man who promised to keep him safe from harm, Lance.
But when Lance dies, Nicky’s assurance of safety disintegrates and his world suddenly becomes a lot more real and a lot more dangerous. Scared to leave the house, Nicky longs for daylight. He employs a gardener to clear the over-grown bushes and vines that have nearly swallowed Thorn Hall whole.
The last thing Nicky expects a little light to do is show him something to fight for.
Eighteen months in a young offenders’ institute has taught Cai two things: he occupies the playful puppy end of the How Dangerous Are You? spectrum, and he has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Desperate for a job, he takes the first offer he gets. Even though Thorn Hall creeps the hell out of him and he barely knows one end of a pair of garden shears from the other.
Things start to fall apart when Cai is drawn into Nicky’s strange world of sticky notes and secrets. Cai finds he is now a target, blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. Desperate not to go back to prison, he digs deep and risks all the good things in life to help Nicky run.
But now Nicky has someone he wants to protect, he knows he can’t run any more
Fra: Suki Fleet has been one of my most treasured discoveries of reading year 2016. Her stories are heartbreaking and beautifully written while at the same time affording both her characters and her readers uplifting experiences.
She writes contemporary tales firmly set in their environment and her writing evokes gritty, stark landscapes which are as much obstacle and redemption to her characters.
She explores themes of isolation, abandonment, mental illness and marginalisation in the most delicate of manners without ever turning condescending and without ever affording the facile endings so well loved of similar tales from across the ocean.
Light Up The Dark is her latest novel and it is – in my modest opinion – a classic Fleet novel. There are recurring themes, a strong sense of place, and a plot which carries the characters across a development and growth arc amongst some of the best I have read in 2016.
Karen : I would agree on Suki Fleet being a total find this year. I have become less tolerant of overtly formulaic books, and while I recognise that romance as a genre does operate within parameters, there is still scope for originality and difference. The previous books I have read by Fleet have been mainly NA and angst heavy, and I need to be in the right frame of mind for both of these to enjoy them. So I was trepidatious over reading one of her books, and I did start this very slowly, but after the first 10% I was hooked.
This book blew me away, Fra had already read it by the time I was 30% in, and I was like a giddy child with all the questions I was asking, and hopefully we won’t spoiler at all, or at least minorly.
Fra: I was absolutely hooked and I just could not put the book down. I am also very much in love with all of the YA/NA stories of hers I read in 2016; I too have by now a complete lack of interest in the overtly formulaic offerings of so many books that come from across the pond.
Add to the above the fact that her books are deliciously British and European in their outlook and approach – bleak and yet uplifting outlook and an approach to plot development which relies heavily on the characters own willingness to get themselves into the “light” and not some sort of narrative miracle, and Suki Fleet can count me as one of her diehard fans forever.
Karen : There are some great elements in LUTD, the Gothic setting of the decaying house, and Dickensian as well with Nicky somewhat like Miss Haversham living in the shadows. As Cai and his family start to invade Nicky’s life there is also a sleeping beauty feel, all of these are relatively subtle though. What made this so good for me was the balance between the psychological thriller and the romance. I think that to get the right balance is incredibly hard, and SF got it totally right for me. I wanted to know what was going on in Thorn Hall, and I rooted for Nicky and Cai.
Fra: Aren’t there just Karen?
I fear spoiling the novel if I go into more details. But let’s put it this way – Light Up The Dark is a psychological thriller with several elements of Gothic fiction thrown in for good measure.
Thorn Hall, I thought- oppressive, dark and dank and mysterious – is as much a character as Nicky and Cai in the story.
Cai’s progress on the overgrown outside of the mansion punctuates Nicky’s progress on the inside: Suki Fleet stated that Light Up The Dark is one of her less angsty novels and I tend to agree. Nicky is isolated and reserved for incredibly good reasons and yet he is the one to initiate the clearing of the wild plants that will eventually bring in both the light and Cai in his life.
I found that there were similarities between Foxes and Light Up The Dark in the way Fleet uses space around her main characters. In Foxes the disused swimming pool Danny uses as a home brings him solace and protection and allows him to retreat from the world around him at will. Comparatively Thorn Hall affords Nicky a modicum of security and protection even if he has started to feel ever so slightly claustrophobic in it. I thought it was particularly poignant how both men build themselves some sort of inner sanctum in the places and how in Nicky’s case the dark is both comforting – in the space he chooses for himself – and frightening – everywhere else in the house. (note I’d love to be more specific but I am absolutely not going to spoil this story)
Together with the classic “person in the turret” Gothic trope I also thought the book had a very cinematographic element to it which reminded me of some of the greatest noir psychological thrillers of old times. In particular I did mention to Karen that Thorn Hall reminded me of Mandalay.
Karen : Nicky is a fascinating character, an inconsistent mix of vulnerable and strong, scared and brave (with good reasons for all of these) and he is matched so well with Cai – also a complex character – despite Nicky being the elder it is Cai who comes initially as the most mature, and then as in all good books they switch roles. Cai’s sister and her friend Loz are wonderful supporting characters as well, while young they are also quite emotionally mature and not there for diversity window dressing.
Fra: I agree on both counts. Nicky is abrasive and guarded, frightened but determined and is the perfect match for Cai. I found Cai equally determined, vulnerable and yet strong and in control.
It had been a while, also, since I read such an intense and sensual intercourse between two main characters. Not gratuitous or a tick box in a narrative lull. When the two main characters get together it propels the story forward both on plot and character development. It was beautifully written and highly romantic.
The alternate point of view is also incredibly well done. I do think Suki writes her secondary characters as if they were the protagonists of their own story and this lends strength to the whole novel.
In Light Up the Dark Loz’s viewpoint works as a brilliant counterpoint to the main plot line and offers, in several slow reveals a completely different angle on the on going story. Which is already quite the reversal of roles given that Loz is a teenager but their actions in the story also affords a queer character pivotal, and incredibly positive, agency.
The same can be said of the rest of the secondary character – mostly women – who at critical points of the story safe the day in a complete reversal of what the formulaic approach would have demanded of the story.
Karen : Because LUTD was published early, I can say that this was one of my top reads of 2016 now as well !
Fra: Agreed !
Overall we found LUTD gorgeously written with Gothic overtones: the pacing is relentless sustained by a tight plot and beautifully upheld by complex character development across multiple point of views.
The language is achingly beautiful, the story gorgeous and romantic; and once again Fleet explores complex themes – isolation and mental health to mention but two – in a delicate way and brings about a satisfying conclusion without relying on the facile denouements so overused in many of this genre novels. Highly Recommended
About the author:
Award Winning Author. Prolific Reader (though less prolific than she’d like). Lover of angst, romance and unexpected love stories.
Suki Fleet’s first novel This is Not a Love Story won Best Gay Debut in the 2014 Rainbow Awards, and was a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Awards. Foxes won Best Gay Young Adult story in the 2016 Rainbow Awards.
You can contact Suki at firstname.lastname@example.org
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