Blackout by Marc Elsberg
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on June 6, 2017 (originally published March 19, 2012 in German)
Genre(s): fiction, action, mystery, thriller
Format & Length: e-book, 320
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When the lights go out one night, no one panics. Not yet. The lights always come back on soon, don’t they? Surely it’s a glitch, a storm, a malfunction. But something seems strange about this night. Across Europe, controllers watch in disbelief as electrical grids collapse. There is no power, anywhere.
A former hacker and activist, Piero investigates a possible cause of the disaster. The authorities don’t believe him, and he soon becomes a prime suspect himself. With the United States now also at risk, Piero goes on the run with Lauren Shannon, a young American CNN reporter based in Paris, desperate to uncover who is behind the attacks. After all, the power doesn’t just keep the lights on—it keeps us alive.
A fast paced, fascinating, thought provoking thriller, Blackout creates a scenario for what could happen if the power we rely on was to go out.
“Manzano had the feeling that time had slowed down since the power had gone out. He listened, conscious of the stillness, acutely aware of what was missing. The soft buzzing of the refrigerator. The bubbling of water in the pipes. The muffled chatter of a neighbor’s television.”
After starting out with a bang (quite literally – a car crash as the traffic lights go out!), the opening segments follow various seemingly unrelated characters from different areas all over Europe as the power grid goes out. Not only did this get the story moving quite quickly, it also showed the magnitude of it all within a few pages, and captured my attention as well. As the story continues to unfold, the characters’ storylines merge in various ways (which personally reminded me of the movie Love, Actually), and we progressively delve deeper into the intrigue of how this all happened.
Elsberg structured this novel in short segments that switch perspective and location. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more consistency in these shifts, but it wasn’t actually too difficult to follow. The quick switching made it easy to read quickly and readily fit each piece into the larger picture. That being said, with a long list of characters from whom we see the story through at one point or another, there was a lot to take in and it was difficult to really connect with any other than the main character. I found myself empathizing more with people as a whole instead of with individual characters, despite their specific trials and suffering.
What makes this story so interesting is that it is topical and reads realistically. We rely so much on electricity, we don’t even realize it until there is an outage. Forget luxuries like television and internet, but the thermostat and light controlled environments we live in and our food storage systems no longer work. Running water that we take for granted becomes precious. Phones can’t be charged to make phone calls (because who has landlines anymore?). Fuel can’t be pumped. Stores run out of stock. Banks run out of cash. Life as we know it today shuts down.
It’s amazing how people can pull together in such crises. Family, friends, and even strangers help each other in ways they never thought they would. I remember the time after Hurricane Sandy when a friend opened her house to others because she was the only one who still magically had power. People slept on the couches and on the floor. It was like a house party that lasted for a week! But what happens when everyone is lacking and such a disaster continues long enough for everyone to run out? Do they still help each other, or is it every man for himself? When simply surviving becomes our focus, do we have enough left over to care for our fellow humans?
Overall, Blackout was a comprehensive, well-thought-out thriller with a hint of mystery and plenty of politics. I’d recommend this for fans of Tom Clancy or John Grisham who are looking for something new.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing an arc of this edition via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.