Banishing the Darkness

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This photo shows the cover of The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold (Goodreads).

Kathryn Haig, Staff Writer

“We’ve been here before” (Arnold 141).

 

How far would you go to banish the darkness?  The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold, a staggering young adult dystopian novel, weaves together the accounts of three travelers, connecting their lives in countless, awe-inspiring ways. Years after the outbreak of a fatal Fly Flu spread by enormous hoards of disturbingly destructive flies, humanity is on the brink of extinction. One of the few survivors, eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog Harry, embark on a life-altering journey to fulfill the last wish of her ill father. Twelve-year-old Kit, raised in a rundown, abandoned movie theatre under the gentle, watchful eyes of his mother, sets off in search of a safe haven known as the Isle of Shoals with teenage twins Monty and Lakie following her death. Expertly intertwined with the touching, tragic tales of Nico and Kit, the nearly omnipotent voice of The Deliverer adds a complex level of mystery and intrigue. Providing incredible insight on the purpose of life, the true nature of human beings, and the ability of storytelling to tie us all together, The Electric Kingdom is a tribute to the beauty, strength, and resilience of humanity, as well as a testament to its many oddities and mistakes.

According to his personal biography, author of the bestselling Mosquitoland, Kids of Appetite, and The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, David Arnold is best known for writing young adult fiction novels. Recipient of the Southern Book Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and the Publishers Weekly Flying Start title, Arnold is a promising author whose work has quickly come to captivate readers around the world.

The Electric Kingdom supplies an intriguing, original plot layered with authentic, intricate characters representing the complicated aspects of humanity itself. Nico’s willingness to enter the unknown on an uncertain mission on the fantastical word of an unstable man in the name of love, trust, and survival shows her unending courage and strength of character, affirming the more inspiring capabilities of humans. Kit, an astonishingly pure, courageous, and kind individual, embodies the spirit of childhood innocence. Wise and intelligent far beyond his year, Kit’s profound intuitiveness and incredible perception make him an entirely lovable character.  Kit is a light in the darkness for his fellow companions, reminding them goodness still exists in their ruined world. The Deliverer is possibly the most interesting character in The Electric Kingdom, with layer upon layer of puzzling “Lives” and cryptic intentions.

In post-apocalyptic New England, all those Kit, Nico, and their companions encounter throughout their journey are broken remnants of an all-too well remembered past.  Still a raw wound, the prior world of electricity and light, of life and love, of expectations and dreams of the future is engrained in the minds of those lucky, or arguably unlucky, enough to remember it.  These people are victims of debilitating memories and regret. The Electric Kingdom is a warning to all those who take their lives, loved-ones and opportunities for granted, who simply assume they will always have tomorrow. In a time when grief, loss and trauma are inevitable, Nico, Kit and The Deliverer embody the concept of seizing the day.

The Electric Kingdom highlights the shocking impossibility of human ideas and innovations from the perspective of children who have never seen such inventions. The ordinary items of our average, everyday lives are shown for what they truly are: remarkable feats of the mind and engineering. Through The Electric Kingdom, Arnold succeeds in bringing humanity back to the Dark Ages, where safety was an unimaginable luxury and hope for the future an inconceivable dream. As a result, Arnold ultimately demonstrates the cyclical fluidity of time and the connection between all human beings. According to Justin A. Reynolds on Goodreads, “This story is about connectedness and the resilience of even the most broken of people. This story is humanity at its most earnest, at its most vulnerable, at its most hopeful. I loved it” (Goodreads). Arnold flourishes in his goal of defining the nature of humanity, proving that all people are susceptible to both mistakes and kindnesses, flaws and blessings. Such complicated, contrary aspects are what make us human. All people make mistakes, and all people have the ability to make a positive difference in this world. No person is made up entirely of one aspect.  Humans are complex; it is simply what makes them who they are. Arnold successfully imparts one of the world’s most essential lessons on his readers: people are confusing and complicated and messy, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Humans can be strong and weak, joyful and sorrowful, intelligent and foolish, all at the same time. It is just the way we are, and no one is alone in that.

The Electric Kingdom explores the impact of being alone, illustrating the downward spiral of a life suffering from loss and dedicated to survival; those solely focused on enduring life just long enough to wake up the next morning never truly live. Many such characters in The Electric Kingdom struggle to remain sane in their lonely, broken world as a result. Being alone was never in the nature of humanity; even the simple absence of touch can break people. As creatures of habit and consistency, humans often have difficulty in uncertain, isolated situations.

Comparatively, while being a tale of loneliness and strife, The Electric Kingdom also depicts the strength of human friendship, familial bonds, and love. According to Carter on Amazon, “It was surreal reading a book about a virus that took over the world. But the book is more than that. It’s about family and friends. Especially found family” (Amazon). Along both the physical and psychological journey of Nico, Kit, and their other companion Lennon, the three youths, unaccustomed to the company of peers and the ways of friendship, find themselves forming unbreakable bonds over the span of just a few days. As each explores these new experiences, they begin to discover the varying forms of love, realizing such concepts were not lost with the world of the past as they had once believed.

Arnold’s novel effectively emphasizes the astonishing power of stories, language, and art.  Books and stories, as evidenced by Nico, have the uncanny ability to be a companion for the lonely, an escape for the trapped, and a destination for the lost. As seen by Kit, art can be a window into the mind and soul, and, in some cases, even its most precognitive aspects. Art and literature are forms of immortality, a way for people to live and be remembered forever through their creations. Arnold elegantly illustrates this fact in an impactful manner, allowing it to stay with the reader long after the last page.

Arnold’s passion for the art of storytelling and understanding of the mark only words can leave on the world and its inhabitants is superbly demonstrated throughout The Electric Kingdom. Told in three different perspectives, The Electric Kingdom is absolutely perfect for dystopian and science fiction fans, devoted readers and artists, and lovers of the art of storytelling in and of itself, as well as fans of the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  As described by John A. Timmons on Amazon, “At times the writer shows timeless talent at other points he is still evolving. The story itself is unique and inspiring. Genuinely heartbreaking and at the same time magical and joyous” (Amazon).

Successful in his goals to substantiate the power of stories, and the connectedness of humanity and their contradictory nature, Arnold’s The Electric Kingdom will leave a permanent imprint on your heart. Fascinating and enigmatic to the end and deserving of five out of five stars, this novel is a remarkably absorbing must-read.