Glow: Book 1 – Potency

Glow: Book 1 – Potency was written by Aubrey Hadley and is due for release in July 2019. It is a science fiction novel that focuses on a teenage girl whose life is changed for ever when she is abducted by aliens. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Harper can’t wait to go to college. Her controlling mother has always home-schooled her and does everything that she can to prevent her daughter from going outside. She claims that this is due to her fears about the Mara Sleeping Sickness – a deadly disease which has struck a couple of random places around the globe – but Harper thinks this is ridiculous. There hasn’t been an outbreak reported anywhere near them.

One afternoon, when Harper sneaks out to play football with her friends, she sees something weird; a glowing spectral figure, roaming the desert near her home. A few days later, the Mara Sleeping Sickness strikes only a few blocks away and Harper’s whole town is put into quarantine. Although all of Harper’s family manage to escape, she finds herself trapped within the compound as her neighbours start to die.

Yet, Harper soon learns that the disease is extraterrestrial in origin. More surprising still, the Ancients – the advanced race of aliens who have engineered it – have more than a passing interest in her. As Harper is whisked off to the Ancients’ military base, she learns that she is actually a hybrid made from human and Ancient DNA. As she is introduced to other people like her, she comes to learn the Ancients’ plan for Earth. The planet has been deemed worthy of protection, but to do so the aliens plan to wipe out the human race…

When I read the blurb of Glow on Netgalley, I was intrigued. It sounded like a blend of an alien abduction story like The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away and a outbreak horror like Contagion. Unfortunately, this description only really held true for the first hundred pages of the novel. The six hundred pages that followed after this were, sadly, a very different story.

Let’s begin by looking at the positive. The opening few chapters of Glow were very quick to draw me in. Although we never truly experienced the pandemic first hand, the threat of the Mara Sleeping Sickness was certainly felt and I was curious to learn what the truth of the glowing figure in the desert was. Although there were some aspects of these early chapters that were jarring, such as the irrational way that Harper’s mother treated her differently to her two siblings, I was still curious to find out what was really going on. Yet, as Harper is abducted by the Ancients, the story very quickly lost this momentum.

Everything about Glow just felt clumsy and unpolished. While I do appreciate that I am reading from an advanced copy and so it may not be a perfect representation of the finished work, it is still quite clear that the novel has many problems. At seven hundred pages in length, the book is twice as long as it needed to be and mires itself in small details.

In terms of world-building, it is quite clear that Hadley has a very clear idea in her head about how every aspect of the Ancients’ society functions. And that’s great. World-building is really difficult and I’ve reviewed many books where its clear that the authors have not put in enough thought into this. However, Glow goes too far the other way. All world-building is delivered to the reader through pure exposition. Everything was told and nothing shown. And I mean everything – from how alien security cameras work to how their bodysuits open to allow them to use the bathroom. A lot of these details were pretty irrelevant to the overall plot and so only really served as a distraction. Even when Harper and her two friends, Jacqueline and Adam, began to plan their escape, the story frequently derailed itself by showing off more facets of the Ancients’ technology and society.

This was also not helped by the clumsy dialogue. Harper’s first-person narrative – and, indeed, every conversation in the book – never truly felt organic. This was especially apparent whenever David – a minor antagonist – presented the “levellings”. These were interventions in which David introduced a new hybrid to the rest of the community by talking about how badly abused they were in their human life. In the real world, people don’t naturally make speeches. Sentences aren’t long, drawn-out and uninterrupted. Blogs and essays are written in that way, but it feels completely unnatural for speech to be.

While Glow did finally start to draw itself together in the final few chapters, it was just too little and too late. The novel does not really have much of a climax and so its pacing never builds to anything. The escape from the Ancients’ base is remarkably simple, which came as somewhat of a surprise. You would have thought that someone – be they human or alien – would have thrown a spanner in the works. The final chapters were also quite underwhelming, never quite revealing why the hybrids were made or what would become of them in the future. While the novel hinted that this was something bad, we never learned any more than this. Presumably, this will be something that is picked up on in a future instalment.

In terms of character, Glow was particularly weak. Harper is a bland protagonist as she purely existed to be an everyman. Even though she was suffering from memory loss, I still felt as though she went with the flow and adapted to living within the Ancient society remarkably easily. The aliens separate her from her brother, openly explain that they plan to kill everyone else she knows and even torture her for an evening before realising that she is a hybrid. Why is she not more emotional and mistrusting of them because of this? She also felt incredibly young. I kept having to remind myself that Harper was practically college age as she often spoke and acted as though she was a much younger teen.

Beyond Harper, the novel introduced an enormous cast of hybrids and Ancients but most were very forgettable. A large portion of Glow was taken up by introducing the other hybrids and telling their stories. Most of these were utterly irrelevant as the hybrids drop out of the plot immediately after this. Even the “Cult” – the hybrids that worshipped the Ancients – never really did anything. While it felt as though they were going to be untrustworthy, they were ultimately all talk and never became a real threat to Harper.

Finally, there was Harper’s human family. Although these characters don’t appear much in the story, their poor treatment of Harper never makes any sense. Even early in the novel, I couldn’t quite get my head around why Harper’s mother let her siblings lead a normal life while Harper was virtually placed under house arrest due to the danger of the Mara Sleeping Sickness. Although the final chapters do try to explain why this is, it only served to raise more questions. I won’t spoil it for you here, as it is the closest thing that the novel has to a twist, but I will just say that it was very disappointing.

So, all in all, Glow: Book 1 – Potency is not a novel that I would recommend. It was far too long and clumsily written, and I did not find any of the characters to be especially memorable. Perhaps some of these issues will be fixed prior to publication, but to me it felt like an very early draft. It really needed a good content edit and the removal of a lot of the unnecessary scenes to make it readable.

Glow: Book 1 – Potency is due for release on 16th July and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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