Lightfinder is a book I polished off during diverseathon and one that I have been putting off reviewing because it was a book I wanted to love. It’s by a Métis author and follows a Cree main character, however, while there were some really positive aspects of this book namely the indigenous representation, overall I found it fell quite flat for me.
Ligthfinder is a young adult fantasy novel that follows Aisling, a young Cree woman who is attending school away from her reservation. When her brother goes missing and her family is struck by another tragedy, she is forced to return home. Aisling, her grandmother, her aunt and two others set out to find Aisling’s brother and along the way, Aisling begins to realise that the legends she grew up hearing may be more than just legends, they may be reality. As this book is a dual perspective narrative, we also hear from Aisling’s brother Eric and we come to understand his motivations for leaving and what he has gotten himself into. During the course of the book, Aisling, Eric and their companions find themselves thrown into a centuries long battle for the survival of the environment and life on Earth.
First off, it should be noted that Lightfinder is the first book in a series, something which I didn’t realise going in. I was expecting a standalone fantasy novel and instead of getting an ending that wrapped everything up sufficiently, I got a cliff hanger type of ending. However, cliff hanger or not, I’m not really sure if I’m invested enough in this series to pick up book 2 when it gets published. I do wonder if my false expectations going in in this regard affected my enjoyment of the book. It’s hard to say really but if they did that’s my fault as opposed to the author’s.
I think the thing which I least enjoyed about Lightfinder was the lack of world building. As we follow Aisling and her companions on her quest to find her brother they cross through lots of forests and go through British Colombia into the neighbouring province of Alberta. I am a non-Canadian reader who has absolutely no experience with the landscape both Aisling and Eric were traversing so I really could have done with a more detailed description of their surroundings to really immerse me in the story and in the world. I feel this would have also helped to create a more magical and high stakes atmosphere. Paquette has included some beautiful illustrations in the book which certainly did help in this regard but which simply were not enough to satisfy me.
The book had a lot of other minor issues which really grated on my nerves as I read. For example we had the chosen one trope and a love triangle rear their ugly heads. We also had a number of very predictable twists. Additionally, there were sections of the book which I found confusing and had to reread to grasp, I presume that’s owing to the dreamlike quality Paquette sought to evoke but I did find that frustrating as it was something which could have been addressed through clearer and more precise language.
Where I do think this book excelled was the incorporation of Cree culture and beliefs. Not only is the magic system and overall storyline very closely linked to Cree legends, the book also discusses the social issues which affect First Nations and Métis people in Canada today. Furthermore, the book doesn’t just touch on issues like alcholism and substance abuse, it also tackles and breaks down stereotypes which are often ascribed to indigenous Canadians. I think in this regard, I learned a lot from this book as I have very little familiarity with First Nations and Métis culture and issues. It has helped me to begin my education in this area and I hope to read many more books by indigenous Canadians in the future and continue learning.
I think it is worth remarking on the fact that this book features an indigenous Australian side character who has joined forces with Ailsing’s kokum (grandmother) in order to protect Mother Earth and fight back against the world’s impending doom. The representation seemed to be sensitively done although I’m open to correction in that regard. However, I do want to say that having a book where indigenous people are fighting to save the world and the environment is pretty amazing. Not only is it merely reflective of reality if we look to things like Standing Rock, but it’s also really important that an indigenous person, be they a teenager or an adult, is able to pick up a book where someone who looks like them is a hero.
At the end of the day this was not a book I got invested in. It’s under 250 pages and took me over a week to finish. When I put it down, I had no real impetus to pick it back up. It’s unfortunate as I really wanted to enjoy it and I did genuinely care about Aisling’s character but it just never came together for me. I would still recommend giving it a bash though because it might work better for people who read more YA than I do and I think reading and supporting indigenous authors is important. Their books aren’t read and talked about as much as they should be and we can start to change that.
Rating: 3 stars