The Light Pirate, by Lily Brooks-Dalton, is a story about global warming, family, magic, guilt, and adaptation. Set in the near future, this novel tells the story of Wanda Lowe’s life, from the end of her mother’s pregnancy to her own old age. Wanda’s life coincides with the collapse of the modern world as we know it, and through the different segments of the book we view both the day- to- day changes for her and her family as well as the changes to the Florida town she lives in. Spoiler alert: global warming is coming for Florida, and for all of us.
Wanda’s birth takes place during the eponymous Hurricane Wanda, a worse-than-anticipated storm that kills many and physically changes the landscape of her town. This marks her out as different in many ways, as does growing up in a family that endured an unimaginable tragedy. As she grows up, we see how the world changes— from the water view homes becoming waterfront and then under water, to the town’s population shrinking as people flee for different areas, to the decrease and shut down of the services available. By the time she’s an adult, the world is unrecognizable.
The structure of this book works really well. It takes place in four main eras of Wanda’s life: power (the time leading up to her birth), water (around age ten), light (adulthood), and time (elderly). Each section has plenty of flashbacks and narration so it’s clear how the characters got to where they are, and it never once feels like anything is missing. Honestly, I could have read an entire book set in any one of these eras— the world is rich with detail, and even the side characters make an impression. The magical elements are present, but never overwhelmingly so (and one character offers a somewhat-scientific explanation for them). Wanda approaches everything with the same amount of inquisitiveness, be it unexplained phenomena or how food storage works, so it made it easy to accept the magic as the way the world is.
Something I really liked about this novel was the way that Brooks-Dalton builds tension. The first section of the book, focusing on Wanda’s parents before and during the hurricane that gives her her name, is so anxious and claustrophobic that I really felt like I was there. There’s an aggressive foreshadowing throughout the book that I also appreciated — we’re never left with the impression that things will go well, or friends will be reunited. The world is ending, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. I realize that sounds grim, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression— ultimately, I found this to be a story of hope. I often see predictions for apocalyptic scenarios that revolve around violence and terror, an “everyone for themselves” type of situation. While The Light Pirate doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of being alone with nobody to watch your back, it shows that collaboration and mutual aid are going to be what saves us all.
I loved this book. I cried (a lot), I laughed (somewhat less), and I resolved to keep more emergency supplies in my home and car.
The Light Pirate by Lily Brooks-Dalton publishes December 6, 2022 and is available for pre-order now at your local independent bookstore or anywhere fine books are sold.