With Nightfall Ellen Connor kicks off an apocalyptic romance trilogy which, if this first book is anything to go by, looks like quite the inspired collaboration. This book features unusual and vivid world building, paired with a good, steamy romance. In addition, the authors aren’t afraid to take risks in presenting a story of love and hope set against a truly dangerous, bleak world.
The main story is set in the western United States after society around the world has fallen into collapse. What began in Europe spread to the United States and modern society as we knew it just died. The power grid collapsed and as a society dependent on electricity, the United States fell into disarray. And the darkness continues. What started as rumors of transformations and horrible creatures back East has now come West. Packs of large wild doglike creatures hunt humanity, eating many and for those bitten but not killed, a horrifying transformation awaits that generally kills the victim.
Jenna Barclay lives in the Pacific Northwest, unaware of what is coming her way. At the beginning of the book, John Mason basically kidnaps her, eventually telling her a story of the debt he owes her survivalist, conspiracy-theory spouting father and how he had promised the man he would save Jenna. Mason tells her stories of a new Dark Age spreading across the land and of the dangers he has seen in his wanderings. Jenna proves difficult to convince – until the mutant dogs show up. It is at this point that things shift. In short order, desperate strangers join Mason and Jenna, and they all struggle to reach safety and survive. Along the way, Jenna and Mason learn to trust each other and, as they fight alongside one another, they also fall passionately in love.
A cursory look at the plot summary tells the reader that this isn’t going to be a merry romp. This novel tells a very gritty, dark tale and the author’s ability to truly bring the story to life emaphasizes both its light and its darkness. So, if you only really like light romance, this may not be your book. However, if you like meatier, darker tales, there is much to feast on here. The world building really worked well for me. Readers do not get all the details or all of the “rules” of this world up front. Instead, we learn alongside the characters and since the world is in a state of change, so too the reader’s understand of the story world will keep evolving. This leads to some moments of confusion at times, but as a reader, I did feel very deeply drawn into this story.
Another thing about this story that really works are the contrasts between light and dark. The characters in this book inhabit a dark, confusing world. While some of the interplay between Jenna and Mason and their not-so-merry band of fellow travelers degenerated into annoying bickering, the struggles of the various characters to learn how to work together, defeat the mutant beasts, and build a life in their new world felt horribly real. Much of the book is violent, and there is no magical way out of the darkness. However, the friendships that the various characters forge, as well as Jenna and Mason’s deepening love for one another bring light to the story. In addition, we get to see one of the secondary characters, Tru, mature from an awkward adolescent boy into a more confident young man and his journey also brings a sort of hope to the book.
While the book was a good read for me, there were a few things that didn’t quite work. First of all, while she does eventually grow on one, Jenna truly annoyed me quite a bit in this book. She’s the cute, blonde Little Miss Perfect of the Apocalypse. She’s nurturing, has good instincts, can fight off wild dogs even though she’s had no real training, and so on. At least she manages to be a little sarcastic every now and then. If she was purity, sweetness, and light, I don’t think I could have stood it. And then there was the mindmeld. For whatever reason, Jenna and Mason develop this magical ability to hear one another’s thoughts. This comes in handy at various points in the plot, but since they’re the only ones who seem to have this ability, it makes no sense.
Even with these flaws, I still greatly enjoyed reading this book. It’s a fascinating, if disturbing, world and I had a lot of trouble putting this novel down. Nightfall doesn’t necessarily wrap everything up with a happily ever after for all of humankind, but in Jenna and Mason’s love story, we do get a hopefully ever after that will keep me waiting for the next book.