At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye

at first light

I cannot thank Elain Egan at Orion Books enough for a copy of At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye in return for an honest review. Along with my review today, I’m thrilled that tomorrow I will be sharing a conversation about At First Light between Vanessa and fellow author Jason Hewitt whose book Devastation Road I reviewed here. Please come back to Linda’s Book Bag tomorrow to see what Vanessa has to say to Jason.

At First Light is published by Orion tomorrow, 1st June 2017, and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

At First Light

at first light

1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.

1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what’s right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town…

Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.

You can watch the trailer video for At First Light here.

My Review of At First Light

When banished Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West in 1919, events will unfold to shape the next seven decades.

Oh my goodness. At First Light is EXACTLY my kind of read. Beautifully crafted with atmospheric prose that enchants and ensnares from the first word, I loved everything about Vanessa Lafaye’s story. The smattering of Spanish lends an authenticity to utterly gorgeous prose so that it is impossible not to become immersed in the action. I didn’t feel as if I were reading a book, but rather I felt as if I became part of the narrative.

Based on real events, At First Light told me more about American history and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) than I had consciously internalised before. Vanessa Lafaye has made me look at my previous visit to Key West in a whole new light. She manages to convey both the ridiculousness of the KKK and their far reaching menace with such skill. Part crime thriller, part love story, part historical novel At First Light is a fabulous weaving of fact and fiction that left me reeling. The violence and threat lurks beneath the surface so that I felt tense as I read, desperate for there to be happy ever after endings but fearing there wouldn’t be.

The plot races along. Some elements are what could almost be termed prosaic, relating to the everyday life of the characters, but this adds credibility and genuineness to the people and events so that other aspects are all the more shocking. I mustn’t spoil the plot for others, but I can’t see either how anyone could read At First Light and not be moved, horrified and enraptured.

The characterisation is outstanding. Alicia, John, Thomas and Dwayne will live long in my heart as real people I wish I had known. I wanted to apologise to them for their treatment, feeling almost partly to blame for what happens to them. At one point, so intense was my feeling along with Alicia’s that I found I was sobbing. Vanessa Lafaye has the power both to educate and to move without the reader’s permission.

Having read At First Light, there’s an ache in me that I don’t think I’ll ever quite recover from. I feel almost bereft that I have finished it. At First Light is, quite simply, a life changing, wonderful book that everyone should read.

About Vanessa Lafaye


Vanessa Lafaye was born in Tallahassee and raised in Tampa, Florida, where there were hurricanes most years. She first came to the UK in 1987 looking for adventure, and found it. After spells of living in Paris and Oxford, she now lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire, with her husband and three furry children. Vanessa leads the local community choir, and music and writing are big parts of her life.

You can follow Vanessa on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook. Vanessa’s books are available through the publisher links here.

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