When 13-year-old twins Malcolm and Valentine Gilbert moved to a new town, they never imagined that the old house across the street could bring them so much trouble. Inside the old house, a secret machine with the power to pierce time has reawakened. Meanwhile, lightning storms are breaking out all over town. They’re getting worse every week, and seem to enjoy striking kids who just want to pass science class and mind their own business. When Malcolm and Valentine discover a connection between the house and the storms, their situation goes from mysterious to crazy-stupid dangerous. Someone is controlling the great machine, and their purpose is nearly complete. In a race against time, the twins must uncover the chilling plan, the mastermind behind it, and the force that’s driving the deadly storms. They’ll hunt a powerful enemy that threatens their town’s existence, and the only clues are written in the sky.
Year of Lightning straddles the line between fantasy and science fiction, in that the Gilbert twins discover that the strange meteorological occurrences happening in their new town are connected to this weird doorless house in their lane that no one notices. Now, I don’t know why this blurb says they are 13 year olds or why it has been shelved as middle grade, for the twins are 15 year old high schoolers in this book, which definitely puts it in young-adult category. Anyway, moving on – both of them are new to the town, escaping the grief from the loss of their mother to her sickness, and a dad who is lost in his own grief. Malcolm is the one who notices the weirdness first, and is a boy of action, but after one encounter with the mysterious owner of the house, he decides to back down. Valentine, however, is much more angry and worried about the town and convinces her brother to help her investigate. Meanwhile, the weather keeps getting weirder and weirder, and soon they have to bring in their friends, who were also affected along with them in a freak accident.
Now, a lot of the plot hinges on the ‘magical’ nature of the tech brought in from the future, so I would classify it more as paranormal than science fiction. There are also many other elements like the twin’s resistance to mind control and the ‘time shield’ that makes this a little out there, so if you can suspend disbelief and treat it more as a paranormal novel, it goes down much easier. Malcolm and Valentine have this easy-going relationship with each other, but it is also not like the are attached at the hip. They have polarizing tastes in subjects, and personalities, but they both share a fierce love for their family, as well as a stable moral compass. The secondary characters give the book much more vivacity in my opinion, though, with the leader-like Winter, jock-like Fred and the hipster-ish John (who is MIA most the novel) making for a nice group of friends. Then there is also the older group – Grandma Gilbert, Miss Marcus, Clive and Walter, who sort of mirror the current group and lend much of the assistance to them in the second half.
The book starts off slow, but by one-fifths it picks up speed and then we go charging into an action-filled venture with fancy tech, epic one-on-one battles, and the high stakes of an entire town’s existence. The canon for the future time was explained but I was not wholly convinced – mostly because I can’t believe they gathered that much information on their own and from a few spying ventures. Also, the fact that tech in the present was used to build future tech – a little out there, even for a brilliant scientist. However, in its entirety this book is a solid block of entertainment, so I recommend it for all sci-fi buffs.