Flare by Jonathan Maas is one of those doomed futures that, in some ways, seems almost foreseeable. During the day, the world is now an inhospitable place for people. Due to unknown means, an extended solar flare is bombarding the planet, causing temperatures to reach new and lethal heights. Any skin that is exposed to the sun during the day immediately burns, as if it were stuck within the flames of an extremely hot fire. Many have died across the planet, but there are some who have survived. They have been forced to become nocturnal, and it is a much changed and harsh life where the only way to survive and not become like the other dead is to adapt.
Ash awakens to find himself living within the world of the flare. He serves as a great introductory device for the reader, as he remembers little at first, but soon finds his twin sister, who explains what has happened to him. They are now hiding in a house away from the sun, trying their best to survive. The windows and openings have been boarded and blocked with mattresses, and anything else that could be found to block the lethal rays, for a small sliver could cause painful burns. Heather, his sister, is looking after a man she cares greatly for, who has been horribly burned, but is somehow still alive. It serves as a symptom of the way things are now in this world. The man, a doctor, is dying, and there is nothing that can be done for him, he simply lives in a world of nonstop pain.
At night, the world becomes a different place again, as the survivors venture outside in search of nourishment and resources. It has become a dog eat dog world, and Heather and Ash have to be careful, and defend themselves when necessary. In a convenience store, they meet Raj who reveals that there are survivors out there who know why all this has happened; who may, in fact, be behind the cause of the flare. He shows them special papers that can withstand the flare that are puzzles. Ash is a gifted individual, who begins working on the puzzles. They are unable to find Raj again, but do discover more of these puzzles. Ash continues working on them, and begins to solve the riddles locked within. They point to a secret location called Salvation, where survivors can live some semblance of a normal life. So Heather and Ash set out to find this special place.
Then, there is Zeke. Another character who has his own ability to deal with the flare. He is unique in that his skin is almost black, and while he cannot survive in the direct sunlight, he can withstand small amounts of sun, and sets out on his own journey meeting different people along the way, and eventually learning of Salvation. But Zeke’s journey is a far more grueling and harsh one, compared to Ash’s, as the reader gets to see some of the truly despicable examples of humanity left in this world.
There are some very good things about Flare. While at times the characters feel a little artificial and robotic, they are still interesting. Animals have developed certain techniques to adapt to the flare and survive, as have certain plant life and cacti, which is fascinating. But, at times, the book seems to go to a dark place, just for the fun of it, such as with Zeke’s plight in experiencing the worst of humanity that just feels over the top and unnecessarily gruesome. There is also the constant use of religious names throughout the book that never really get explained. While the ending does leave the reader somewhat satisfied, it also feels somewhat lacking, as Zeke and Ash never come together as had been presumably hinted at throughout the book.
Overall, through the ups and downs, Flare is still an interesting read that presents a different take on the dystopian end of the world genre that continues to be popular. Much like The Walking Dead, it is not a story about this terrible event, but about how people adapt and survive, just as we have for millions of years.
First published in the San Francisco Book Review.
Originally written on June 3, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.
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