Cold Light is the second book in the After Series by Traci L. Slatton. The first book is called Fallen, and I fell in love with it immediately.
I recommend reading Fallen before reading Cold Light, in order to get the full story. That being said, I think Cold Light might stand up on its own. Some of what happened in the first book is mentioned, or at least eluded to, in the second book.
Cold Light picks up not long after Fallen ends, in a post-apocalyptic world that is in constant danger. Mists that eat metal, turn buildings to dust, and dissolve people, are still roaming the world. In addition, there is the danger that happens when desperate people, struggling to survive, see others as their enemy.
The story starts with a kidnapping. Beth, Emma and Haywood’s nine year old daughter, is pulled from Emma’s grasp and stolen away by men on horses. The girl is among a group of women and children who were taken. Emma’s first impulse is to immediately go after her daughter, and Haywood has to hold her down to prevent her from doing so.
This moment shatters the illusion that Emma and her family were living in a safe place. The City of Edmonton was said to be one of the safest places left, in a world where hungry mists float by and destroy everything, and everyone, in their path. It was believed that people who lived there were safe from marauders – but that’s clearly not true anymore.
The City Officials refuse to go after the kidnapped women and children. Emma decides that she will go rescue Beth. Haywood tries to talk her out of it, and even insists that he will go with her. Emma refuses. She made a promise to their younger daughter, Mandy, that at least one parent would be with her at all times.
The two get into a heated argument. Haywood wants Beth back, but cannot bear to lose Emma a second time (as he did when she and Mandy were in France on The Day the mists appeared, while he and Beth were in Canada). Emma’s mind is made up, and she starts packing for her journey, hoping to steal a horse before she goes. Everyone knows that stealing a horse is an executable offense.
Haywood angrily accuses Emma of enjoying this: the preparation for a dangerous quest, and the difficulties of the quest itself. Emma shrugs his comment off, kisses goodbye her sleeping daughter Mandy, and heads out on her journey. Clearly, there are some big problems in Emma and Haywood’s relationship – problems that did not exist before The Day – and before Emma met Arthur.
One of the things I love about this book is that Emma plays the role of the “hero”. She is the one who determinedly ventures off to rescue her daughter. Emma is strong, physically and emotionally, aware of the risks she is taking, but unafraid to take them. Meanwhile, her husband stays behind (against his will) with their younger daughter.
Part of this book is about the journey Emma takes through bitterly cold Canada. She walks through frozen air and snowdrifts, trying to stay awake so she won’t freeze to death. The writing in this portion is so vivid that I found myself actually feeling the cold that Emma was experiencing, and occasionally shivering.
As Emma walks for miles, in extremely cold weather, her mind wanders. She thinks about Arthur, who she left behind in France. He haunts her, in many ways. Arthur and Emma unintentionally fell in love with each other, and that romance came to an abrupt halt due to circumstances that neither of them foresaw.
As much as Emma wants to live a happy life with Haywood and her daughters, she still longs for Arthur’s touch and the strong connection they had. She knows Arthur’s horrible secret, and desires him anyway. Emma is torn between wanting a stable, yet unfulfilling, family life with Haywood, and a sensually satisfying, yet incredibly dangerous, life with Arthur.
It’s all academic, though, because Emma believes she will never see Arthur again. Instead, he starts haunting her as she travels through the cold, preventing her from falling asleep and freezing to death in the snow. Emma believes that Arthur’s appearance is just a trick of the mind, brought on by fatigue. Or… is it?
Without giving away too many “spoilers”, I will say that Emma ends up making some new friends, and reuniting with some old friends she never expected to see again. The story builds up to the eventual confrontation with the man who leads the marauders who stole Beth from Emma’s grasp. There are times when it looks like all is lost, and hope is gone – until that changes thanks to help from good friends.
Somewhere along the way, Emma finds she must make a painful decision. She cannot belong to both Haywood, and Arthur, at the same time. Emma struggles to figure out which man she should stay with and which she should leave behind. There were times when I thought I knew who she would pick, and then I’d change my guess as the story moved on. By the end, Emma has made her decision. I’m already wondering how that choice plays out in the third book in the After series.