Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book Review: FIRST LIGHT

Title: First Light
Author: Bill Rancic
Publisher: GP Putnam's Son
Pages: 320

Kerry, her husband and her ten-year-old son, Jackson, embark on a 5-day road trip to Canada. Their purpose is to attend a memorial service for those who died in Denali Airlines Flight 806, over a decade ago. 

The couple sees the road trip as a good occasion to let Jackson know about that aspect of the past that they have always kept hidden from him.

The first chapter is in the first person point of view of Kerry’s husband. At that point, we do not even know his name. it is only in Chapter 2, that the author moves behind for a wider look, giving us the entire story through the medium of the parents telling young Jackson about what happened before his birth.

We learn the story of Daniel Albrecht and his fiancée, Kerry Egan, both employees of Petrol Inc, the world’s biggest oil company, who are in Alaska in the wake of a huge disaster. At this point the story reads almost newsy.

Their boss, Bob Packer, is making unreasonable demands of them, insisting that they fix the leak and resolve the crisis, so they can all go home.

The other employees include Judy, Kerry’s best friend, and HR head Phil Velez who lost his wife Emily to cancer, while he worked at his previous company. He has joined Petrol, in an attempt to get away from the memories and sorrow and the pity of his former colleagues. At Petrol, Phil feels attracted to Kerry. However, he struggles to control his attraction and ends up behaving in an unfriendly manner with her.

Working against odds, Daniel and his men manage to plug the leak in Alaska. Soon they are all on a plane from Anchorage to Chicago. Aboard the plane, Daniel and Kerry make plans for their wedding, and Kerry reveals the news about her pregnancy.

Shortly thereafter, the plane’s engines fail and the plane crashes, killing many and plunging the remaining in a desperate quest for survival.

The description of the plane crash and its immediate aftermath feels real and heart rending.

Phil is hurt and suffers from internal injuries. Kerry suffers from concussion. A survivor, Beverley, who is a nurse, tends to the injured.

Daniel tells Phil to ensure that Kerry does not drop off to sleep, fearing that she might slip into a coma. Leaving them together, he sets out to look for Judy who has disappeared along with the entire tail end of the plane, which has broken off, and to look for his satellite phone. 

While in the tail section, he finds that Judy is dying. The description of Judy’s injury and the possibility of her slow but imminent death made for difficult reading.

The storm and raging snow make it difficult for rescue teams to seek them out. In this scenario, Bob and Daniel set out to seek help.

Outside in the snow, as they trudge weary miles for two days, suffering frostbite and other dangers, Bob turns out to be more a liability than an asset to Daniel.

While Mother Nature plays out her drama, the humans play theirs. The author highlights the physical, mental and emotional distress of the survivors as they struggle to keep themselves alive while waiting for the rescue teams to find them. 

Nerves clash as the need for survival brings out the worst instincts in some people. This gives Phil’s character a chance to redeem himself, to fight off the guilt that has been his since the death of his wife.

I felt conflicted about the character of Daniel. I admired the way he rose to every occasion, looking for food that he could salvage, and helping people. The fact that he is a crisis management professional made his actions believable. But he also got irritating. 

Sure, he was trained to manage crises, but his ability to take charge in all situations jarred. Misfortune could have brought out leadership skills in one of the others too.

On the other, the change that came over Phil was handled well. It was nice to see him, confessing to his worst secret, admitting that he left his sick wife alone for three hours, unable to cope with her mood swings and the almost cruel way in which she lashed out at him. 

The confession, and his subsequent change of character, made him a more endearing character. I began to sympathise with him, see his innate goodness. I also liked the unnamed nurse who understood his situation and didn’t blame him.

The other characters too made their presence felt in a positive manner. Flight attendant Kecia, and passengers, Beverley, small boy Zach and his mother, they all came alive. Even Kerry, even though she spent the greater part of the book in an unconscious state.

The big man who tries to hog the fire, and little Zach, they are all real people. Even Bob has his moment when he apologises to Daniel.

While it is no surprise that they get rescued, given that the book begins with young Jackson learning the story from his parents, the twist is still there, and it took me by surprise.

This was a heartwarming story of courage amid difficulties, and love seeking to triumph over huge odds, that I enjoyed reading.

My prayers for all victims of plane crashes.

 (I got an ARC from First To Read.)

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