azhure: (me phoenix)

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In 1806, William Thornhill is an impoverished boatman struggling to feed his family. After being caught stealing wood, he is sentenced to be transported to the penal colony of New South Wales. His wife, Sal, accompanies him, along with their first child; when they make land in the colony, her husband becomes her slave.

The two of them and their growing family eke out an existence in this strange new land, their eyes always on the eventual goal of returning home to England. Thornhill eventually earns his pardon, and discovers a stretch of land along the Hawkesbury River, which he becomes determined to settle.

As any Australian should know, the colonists and convicts were not the first people to settle this area, and Thornhill and his family become aware of the indigenous people (or “savages”, or simply the “blacks” as the colonists call them). The colonists are erecting fences and clearing fields on lands the Aboriginal people have roamed through and lived with for generations, and it is inevitable that some conflict will occur.

This novel conveys the horrific events of that conflict in brutal honesty, and juxtaposes it beautifully against the absolute poverty that drove men like Thornhill to thieve (often small amounts) in an effort to try to feed their families.

The ending of the book feels a little rushed and almost unbelievable after the events that preceded it (trying to avoid spoilers here, though one wonders how much you can actively spoil something based on historical events) – but the horrific truth is that it absolutely reflects reality. A wealthy nation was founded, in part, on blood and secrets and brutality, and Grenville does not shy away from that. I can only imagine how difficult parts of this book must have been for Grenville to write, since she drew on her own family history as inspiration.

Highly recommended.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute young woman called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city. The Swan Book has all the qualities which made Wright’s previous novel, Carpentaria, a prize-winning best-seller. It offers an intimate awareness of the realities facing Aboriginal people; the energy and humour in her writing finds hope in the bleakest situations; and the remarkable combination of storytelling elements, drawn from myth and legend and fairy tale, has Oblivia Ethylene in the company of amazing characters like Aunty Bella Donna of the Champions, the Harbour Master, Big Red and the Mechanic, a talking monkey called Rigoletto, three genies with doctorates, and throughout, the guiding presence of swans.

Every once in a while you pick up a book that you immediately want to buy copies of for half (or all) of your friends. This is one of those books.

“The Swan Book” is set in a future Australia, where much of the world has been devastated by global warming and subsequent climate change. Whole nations have been swallowed by the sea, and entire peoples made refugees. Australian Aboriginals are living underneath the Intervention, essentially locked into camps in the north of the country.

Obilivia Ethyl(ene) lives in one of these camps, a collection of people eking out a life around a polluted lake. Gang-raped by petrol-sniffing youths, she reduces her life to myth. She walks through a strange life surrounded by swans, brolgas and owls, where people are not always people, and her path can just as easily be a poem or a song.

This book may not be for everyone: the prose is often poetic, slipping into colloquialisms and stream-of-consciousness and back again, often within the span of one sentence. If you want your story told in a straightforward manner, then you should look elsewhere. But if you are willing to enter a world where myth walks beside reality, and there can be beauty even in the most horrible of things, then “The Swan Book” is for you.

Absolutely incredible, and I am not surprised at all that this has been shortlisted for the Stella Prize.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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When an imaginary animal from her troubled teenage years reappears, Virgin takes it to mean one of two things: a breakdown (hers!) or a warning. Dead bodies start piling up around her, so she decides on the latter. Something terrible is about to happen in the park and Virgin and her new partner, U.S. Marshall Nate Sixkiller, are standing in its path…

Virgin Jackson is the senior ranger in Birrimun Park – the world’s last natural landscape, overshadowed though it is by a sprawling coastal megacity. She maintains public safety and order in the park, but her bosses have brought out a hotshot cowboy to help her catch some drug runners who are affecting tourism. She senses the company is holding something back from her, and she’s not keen on working with an outsider like Nate Sixkiller

(eARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review)

In the future, Earth’s wildernesses have been decimated, the landscape dominated by megacities. Only one natural place remains – Birrimun Park. Its senior ranger is Virgin Jackson, a tough-talking, stubborn woman who loves the park, though she is not overly fond of the American West themes inflicted on the Australian park in order to feed the tourist trade.

The park is supposed to be inviolate, a fact that Virgin believes until she witnesses a murder within its boundaries. At the time time, she begins to see Aquila, an “imaginary” eagle that she has seen since she was a child, and relegated to a product of her tempestuous teenage years.

Virgin becomes a target, though she has no idea who is targeting her, and is forced to delve into her own past as well as the mysteries of what happened in the park in order to guarantee her own safety.

Peacemaker sets a hectic pace, with Virgin and Nate stumbling from one dangerous situation to the next. de Pierres manages to balance this tumult of action with calmer scenes, all of which work to develop the world and Virgin herself.

Virgin Jackson is a heroine that science fiction needs to see more of. She is real – she hesitates sometimes, and other times she tumbles head over heels into situations that the reader will fairly be screaming at her to run away from. She gets beaten up a lot, and yet she always gets up again. She breaks gender roles in a multitude of ways, and yet de Pierres hasn’t fallen back on any tropes in making her strong in this sense. She can stand with any of them men in this world, and yet she also possesses a softness and vulnerability that the reader is allowed glimpses of.

Readers will also find the romance in this refreshing – after the first few chapters, I had feared that things were being set up for a love triangle. Nothing of the sort ensues, though the romance is by no means easy or simple.

It is clear that de Pierres has developed a wonderful world here, and it feels very much like this book only skims the surface of it. There are many tantalising hints of depths, especially in terms of the spiritual side of the world, and of Nate Sixkiller.

I am very glad to see that at least one sequel to this book will be coming out, and I hope to see many more after it, de Pierres willing to write more. de Pierres is an extremely talented author who has produced an exceptional variety of works, and if you haven’t read any of her work before, Peacemaker is a great place to start.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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It’s been four years since Chris Arlin graduated with a degree that most people think she made up, and she’s still no closer to scraping up funding for her research into rare plants. Instead, she’s stacking shelves at the campus library, until a suspiciously well-dressed man offers her a lucrative position on a scientific expedition.

For Chris, the problem isn’t the fact that they’re searching for the Biblical Tree of Life. Nor is it the fact that most of the individuals on the expedition seem to be fashionably lethal mercenaries. The problem is that the mission is being backed by SinaCorp, the corporation responsible for a similar, failed expedition on which her mother died eleven years ago.

However, when Chris’s father is unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Chris sees only one solution. Vowing to find the Tree of Life before SinaCorp’s mercenaries, Chris recruits Luke, an antisocial campus priest undergoing a crisis of faith. Together, they embark on a desperate race to find Eden. However, as the hunt intensifies, Chris discovers growing evidence of her mother’s strange behaviour before her death, and she begins to realise that SinaCorp isn’t the only one with secrets they want to stay buried.

(eARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review)

“The Other Tree” is Australian author D.K. Mok’s debut novel. Caught somewhere between fantasy and thriller with religious overtones, this books is inevitably going to be compared to blockbusters like “The DaVinci Code”. The bonus here is that Mok’s writing is almost flawless, and her characters live and breathe (and snark at refreshing intervals) and actually act like real human beings.

Chris Arlin is a cryptobotanist who is approached by the company SinaCorp (who seem to be involved in pretty much anything and everything scientific and technical) to search for the real Bibical Tree of Life. Not only does Chris not trust SinaCorp’s motives for searching for the Tree, but she blames the company for her mother’s death, and, naturally, rejects their offer. Instead, she becomes determined to discover the Tree on her own, enlisting the help of conflicted priest Luke, on her quest.

Both Chris and Luke are complex, but extremely believable characters. There are several tropes that I feared would occur during this book – a romance between the two, for example – that Mok, thankfully never goes near. Chris and Luke always act within the bounds of their own beliefs and knowledge, and I never got the impression that either they, or the events of the book, were being forced into situations simply to serve the plot.

Chris, in particular, is a fabulous character. She never wavers from her interests and beliefs, and is more than strong enough to carry the story, even without Luke. Together, they give a fascinating perspective into this Indiana Jones-like quest for the Tree of Life. It would be very easy for an author to lose any character development against the background of such an enormous plot, and Mok never does – these characters remain vivid and real the whole way through.

Recommended for anyone who likes adventures and good, character-based fiction.

 

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

13552764

 

The Reckoning destroyed civilisation. Rising from the ashes, some people have developed unique abilities, and society is scared of them. Guided by the ancient spirits of the land, Ashala Wolf will do anything to keep them safe.

When Ashala is captured, she realises she has been betrayed by someone she trusted. When her interrogator starts digging in her memories for information, she doubts she can protect her people forever. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

 

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is the first book in Ambelin Kwaymullina’s post-apocalyptic/dystopian series, The Tribe. The series itself is marketed as YA fantasy, and while this book does technically fit into that category, I believe it would miss a lot of readers who would otherwise enjoy it.

There’s a lot to like about this book. There’s an originality to the world that Kwaymullina creates, even though she uses often standard tropes in its creation. An ecological disaster – never fully defined, but implied to have come about because of mankind pillaging the world through greed, and upsetting the Balance – has changed the face of the world. People, too, have changed, with many developing powers – some can cause earthquakes, others can shape the sky to forms they wish, others can read thoughts, to name just a few examples. Those who have powers are tightly controlled by the government (where control equals living in a detention centre), lest they upset the Balance and cause another apocalypse. Those who flee are Illegals, and hunted.

Ashala Wolf is the leader of the group of Illegals who live as the Tribe. This is the story of her interrogation in a detention centre.

It is a fantastic story: Ashala is a fascinating character, as are the other characters we see over the course of the book. What we see of the world is intriguing: we see the giant lizard saurs, and pieces of the Firstwood. And while this isn’t like to bother many of the YA target audience, sometimes, reading this as an adult reader, I found it frustrating that we *only* get to see these hints. I feel as though Kwaymullin has actually developed this world (which does feel very much like a post-apocalyptic Australia, though Australia itself in this future does not exist), but we don’t get to see *enough* of it. I do hope that more of the worldbuilding will be revealed over the course of the series.

The structure also didn’t quite work for me. It feels very much the debut novel it is, as Kwaymullin reaches to peel back the layers of story and truth in a fashion that *almost* works. I actually found myself having to check several times over the first third of the book that this was indeed the first book in the series, since so much was referred to but not explained. It’s nice not to see huge infodumps, but there could have been some more backstory explained.

Overall, this is a start to a very promising series by an Australian author, and an extremely accomplished debut. I’ve really only deducted a star for the structure that didn’t quite work for me, and I would recommend this whole-heartedly. I know that if I’d read this as a fifteen-year-old, I would have been dreaming of running away to join the Tribe.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

azhure: (me phoenix)

awwbadge_2014

I’d debated about whether I was going to sign up for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge again this year.

Not because I didn’t enjoy the challenge last year, but simply because I want to focus most of my energy on writing this year, and not so much on reviewing.

But then while looking through my Goodreads feed, I found a book that I want to read for the challenge.  And so, I am signing up again.

I am signing up at the Franklin level again (read at least 10, review at least 6) and will be cross-posting my reviews on the blog here (and from here to Livejournal and Dreamwidth and Tumblr) and at Goodreads.

Mirrored from Stephanie Gunn.

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