Verdict: Despite some deficits in female character development, FLARE should attract sci-fi and futuristic fiction fans with its intriguing thesis, powerful male heroes, and robust plot.
In an unknown timeframe, Earth is seared by a flare-up of our sun. Those who venture outside during the day are rapidly burned alive. The scattered survivors learn to move by night, defending their resources against looters and worse.
FLARE focuses on two main characters: Ash is a musical genius who is already scarred by two major accidents before the flare, and survives in symbiosis with his physician sister Heather; Zeke is a huge man hampered by his inability to speak, but protected by his unusually dark skin color from all but the worst of the deadly sun’s ravages. When Ash saves a beautiful girl named Courtney, he finds a personal reason to survive, while Zeke is enthralled by a self-declared monk, Colm, who identifies Zeke’s true destiny. At its midpoint, the book forks into two possible futures for the Earth, one a mysterious high-tech “paradise” called Salvation that welcomes Ash for his unique talents; the other an offshore oil tanker colony where Zeke finds a vision of hell, ruled by a ruthless sadist called Legion. Both men will strike out on their own, each believing that he alone can find a peaceable remedy that will save the remnants of humanity.
FLARE is a competent piece of sci-fi craftsmanship, savvy enough to attract the smart reader, and energetic enough to keep the interest of those who like rapid scene changes and heaping helpings of gore. It has an airtight plot with minute attention to detail, down to the last strip of duct tape, and the mystery at its core is doled out in measured increments.
Where Maas displays weakness, however, is in female character development. While Ash and Zeke are sufficiently nuanced and edgy, the two main women, Heather and Courtney, are mere adjuncts, their viewpoints revealed only through observation by the men around them. In such a lengthy story, Maas could have allowed his women greater means of expression, especially since he has created a large supporting cast of domineering, violent males. In general, Maas writes with greater gusto about Legion’s bad guys (a multi-page sadomasochistic sex show being a case in point) than about the purportedly more moral crew of Salvation, who are clean, logical and aloof. Nonetheless, FLARE is near-textbook futuristic fiction, with some obvious lines drawn to current theories about global warming: a worldwide dilemma has caught everyone unaware; wise men and evil exploiters build their power bases; a savior must arise.
Despite some deficits in female character development, FLARE should attract sci-fi and futuristic fiction fans with its intriguing thesis, powerful male heroes, and robust plot.