Translucent, by Dan Rix

Imagine a substance that when stretched over an object (or a person) will render it (s/he) invisible. That alone was enough incentive for me to buy this book. I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of invisibility, particularly how individual authors would deal with the specifics and the physics of it. If someone’s invisible but their clothes aren’t, what happens? What happens when the person eats; can the food still be seen? How can an invisible person see if the light passes right through their retinas? Intriguing questions to ponder. So how did author Dan Rix handle them? How did he handle the story?

In a word, brilliantly.

Main character and first-person narrator Leona Hewitt starts the story on a night out camping with her best friend Megan. There’s definitely some tension in the air between them, but a meteor soaring through the air and crashing nearby captures their attention. Leona steps into the crater and retrieves a strange meteorite, almost as if it was calling to her. The rock secretes an oily substance that eventually becomes somewhat sticky, and they ultimately learn it has much more…interesting properties. More on that later.

Meanwhile, Leona and Megan are harboring a terrible secret. An astute reader will quickly figure out the basics of the tragedy, but the details are slowly revealed, which is something the author handled quite effectively. Leona feels tremendous guilt for what happened—that clearly came through in the narration—but as I learned more about the incident, my opinion of her actions waffled. At times, I understood her as a regular naïve teenager in over her head. Other times, I found her and Megan’s actions completely irresponsible. But she wrestled with her conscience, and as that became an underlying theme of the book—more on that later—her inner conflict became more real.

Not too long after the camping trip, the military shows up to ask Leona questions about the incident, to decontaminate her and her room, and to confiscate the meteorite and any residue it may have. Leona suspects that something more is going on with them, and she’s already hiding one secret that she’s afraid will come to light, so she doesn’t tell them the exact truth. They didn’t get all the substance they were collecting, and Leona wants to keep some.

Leona and Megan bring some of the substance to the graduate student older sister of one of Megan’s friends. The physics teacher in me was completely engaged and enraptured by discussion of the refractive index of the material and the theory that it’s dark matter—the hypothetical invisible matter that comprises a majority of the matter in the universe. Whether or not that’s what the material turns out to be in the later books in the story, I applaud the author for enough of a plausible explanation that has enough correct physics and fits the needs of the story.

The girls learn that the substance can be stretched and wrapped around things, both inorganic and organic, and before long, they’re using it on themselves. The scene when Leona first becomes completely invisible is vividly and viscerally described. It’s a slow process, and watching it happen is both horrifying and fascinating to her—and reading about it is just as horrifying and fascinating.

Invisibility can help Leona disappear and hide from her secret. Invisibility can help Leona figure out what the military might be up to. Invisibility can help Leona keep an eye on brooding senior boy Emory Lacroix, who is intertwined in some of the subplots in this book. Though she can’t bring herself to reveal her secret, invisibility might be a path to redemption. Invisibility could become like an addiction, and Leona could find herself compelled to be that way often.

The dark matter wrapping itself around Leona and rendering her invisible works on a deep, symbolic level. We wear our baggage like a second skin, and sometimes if we don’t reveal our inner dark side, it can consume us. Or maybe we need to escape from it and not be seen. But the invisibility is also a great story device. Its extraterrestrial origin makes it both extraordinary and sinister, and I found myself unable to put the book down. The plot threads weave together like invisible tendrils twisting and turning, and though I sometimes figured some things out mere pages before Leona did, there were still several unexpected twists and turns.

And the ending? OH MY! I’ve commented in a previous review how cliffhangers must be earned by first closing some story or character arc. No problem there—I felt there was more than satisfactory wrapping up of the primary conflict. Then the final moment came, juxtaposed with what preceded it, and my mind was blown. I’ve already started reading book two, Of Starlight, and no substance from the stars can make book one’s FIVE STAR review invisible.

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Translucent is available at Amazon.

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