Thirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off HaThirteen years ago, Harrison Harrison was out on a boat with his parents, and a tentacled monster attacked them, killing his father and ripping off Harrison’s leg. He nearly died from an infection, and in the years that followed he covered up his memories with a more rational explanation than a Lovecraftian monster.
Now Harrison is sixteen and accompanying his mom on a scientific expedition to the little coastal town of Dunnsmouth. Rosa Harrison is a marine biologist who specialises in massive creatures like whale sharks and sperm whales, and her latest obsession is the colossal squid.
Harrison (H2 – Harrison Squared – to his mom; scientist humour) thought tagging along would be better than the alternatives, but Dunnsmouth is set to prove him wrong. The town takes the concept of “parochial” to new levels of creepy. There is no internet connection or cellphone reception (Harrison complains about being “involuntarily Amished”), so there’s no way of calling for help from the outside world. The school Harrison has to attend looks like a giant tomb, he sometimes hears chanting as he wanders through the labyrinthine hallways, and the swimming pool is in a subterranean cave. Some of the staff members look kind of… aquatic. The principal also happens to be the priest of the town’s arcane religion, and while Harrison is “used to being one of the few public atheists in school” he’s a lot less certain about being “an army of one against the One True Faith of Dunnsmouth”. Also, all the kids look weirdly similar, they’re unnervingly quiet, and they’re all white, which is worrying for a mixed-race kid like Harrison in a small town.
And what Harrison’s mom hasn’t told him is that this is the same town where he lost his leg and his father thirteen years ago, and that she’s returned to find the monster that attacked them. This is something that Harrison is forced to discover on his own when Rosa goes missing at sea on their second day. The townspeople don’t seem to think there’s much hope of finding her (or don’t want to), but Harrison is convinced that she’s still alive so he mounts his own investigation. No matter how distorted his memories of the attack thirteen years ago, he knows that his parents saved him, so he refuses to abandon his mother. Along the way, Harrison finds some unexpected allies, including a boy from a race of aquatic humanoids; encounters a terrifying murderer known as The Scrimshander; and finds out exactly how creepy Dunnsmouth’s weird religion is.
I jumped at the chance to read this after reading the novella We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison in group therapy with several other people who’ve had to deal with monsters in their lives, including a woman who’d had images carved on her bones by the Scrimshander. That book had its flaws – most notably an unimpressive ending that didn’t do the rest of the book justice – but I was seriously impressed by the characters Gregory wrote, and that was more than enough to make me want to read this book.
It didn’t disappoint; Harrison Squared has a fantastic cast of characters and even the minor ones are well-written. Sixteen-year-old Harrison is an even more enjoyable character than the adult version, perhaps because he’s funnier and more optimistic. He’s got a great sense of sarcasm and is generally a nice, well-rounded kid. He’s so capable with his carbon-fibre prosthetic leg that his disability never seems like much of a disability, although it’s still very much a part of who he is and how he functions. He does, however, have two serious problems – he’s afraid of going in the water, and he has a “volcanic” temper in contrast to his otherwise “calm and analytical” nature. His water phobia has never been an issue in daily life, but of course he’s going to have to deal with it if he has any hope of saving his mom in a place like Dunnsmouth. His temper has been more problematic, and although he’s learned to handle it over the years, the current situation threatens to break his control.
I also loved Harrison’s Aunt Sel, who comes to stay with him after his mother disappears. Selena was initially dismissed as a potential caregiver for being a snooty urbanite with no interest in kids. When she turned up I was expecting her to be an uncaring bitch, but she was superb. She’s definitely not the mothering type, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about Harrison; it’s just that she doesn’t show it in any kind of conventional motherly way. She strides in, dramatic and impeccably dressed, effortlessly gets her way with almost everyone, and refuses to take shit from anyone. Harrison eats well if only because she’s used to having the best (lobster dinner?) and he’s warmly dressed on some of his later night-time excursions partly because she finds his one-hoodie style tiresome and is dying to buy him some new clothes.
Sel also doesn’t care if Harrison doesn’t go to Dunnsmouth’s weird school or that he sneaks around at night, which is perfect in these circumstances because it means Harrison is free to do whatever he needs to do to find his mother.
As far as the plot is concerned, Gregory does a better job than in We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared reads like the best kind of YA adventure horror, which is to say that it’s wonderfully fun and creepy, thanks in part to the immense pleasure of being able to root for a character like Harrison. The climax felt a bit abrupt, but no matter; I had a great time with this and I want more books like it. The ending provides the setup for a possible sequel, so I can only hope that there will be one....more
For her seventeenth birthday, Demi goes to a music festival in the Cederberg with five of her friends. Sadly, what was supposed to be the best night oFor her seventeenth birthday, Demi goes to a music festival in the Cederberg with five of her friends. Sadly, what was supposed to be the best night of her life ends up being the last, and her friends go home traumatised by her tragic death. Her boyfriend Damien feels like he doesn’t have a reason to live anymore. Ashley and Verushka – known as V – has lost their best friend. James and Demi weren’t close, but he’s torn by the fact that her death ruined his relationship with V, who hates that they were together in his tent when Demi died. Siya will never be able to forget being the one to find Demi’s body, but all his father cares about is the fact that he went to a music festival without permission.
Sharp Edges delves into the minds of each of these characters, with each chapter taking us closer to Demi’s death and the events leading up to it. We not only get a sense of how deeply Demi’s death has affected her friends’ lives, but also how a tangled mess of teenage angst, lust and longing brought them all to this fate.
And what South African author Partridge does very well is depict some of the psychological ‘horrors’ of adolescence, like being stuck under the thumb of domineering or inadequate parents, juggling the various aspects of your evoling identity, being constantly awkward and angry and unsure of yourself.
As we move through each character’s POV narrative, you can also how painfully self-absorbed they all are. Each is struggling with their own issues, while almost completely failing to notice what difficulties the others are going through.
I liked some POVs more than others. Damien struck me as melodramatic while James was a bit boring as the typical bad boy hiding deep feelings under a callous exterior. Siya’s story was more interesting though, and Demi became more complex as the book progressed. At first she bothered me because some of the characters remember her as being so perfect – a beautiful, bubbly blonde with an endlessly sunny disposition. She even dyes her hair with a perfect array of rainbow colours. However, we eventually see that this sparkly ray of sunshine isn’t quite as lovely as she initially appears. Demi was perhaps so cheerful because she was a flighty person who never took anything seriously. And there is a problem in the way Damien idolises her as his dream girl – might things have turned out differently if he acknowledged her flaws?
It’s a tragically complicated mess of adolescent feelings, psychologies, personal issues, and mistakes that can’t be easily unravelled for easy answers. It’s the kind of book that presents a great opportunity for arguing back and forth about what the characters did, what they should have done, how culpable they are, what it’s like to be a teenager, etc.
There was one major issue that bothered me though – why is there no investigation into Demi’s death? Was there an autopsy? She’s underage, dies at a music festival, and drowns even though she is able to swim, so surely the authorities – or at least Demi’s parents – would immediately start asking questions about drug abuse and drinking at the very least. I can understand why Partridge might have avoided this – it allows her to focus solely on the characters’ psychological journeys. An investigation might have gotten in the way. But it still seems strange that any legal consequences of Demi’s death are absent.
Nevertheless, Sharp Edges is a good read, and at only 130 pages you can tear through it in an hour or two.
Meh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and whMeh. A heavy-handed, often simplistic novel, perhaps because it's written for children or teens. The conflict is very neatly divided into black and white. The polytheistic city of Ansul was famed for its literary and scholarly culture, until the Alds of Asudar invaded, raping, murdering, and wrecking. The Alds are religious extremists who believe that the written world is evil. They destroy every book they can find, kill anyone in possession of written material, and make reading a crime. Seventeen years later, their priests and soldiers occupy the city.
Memer was conceived during the invasion, when her mother was raped by soldiers. She hates the Alds for all they have done - raping her mother, torturing the beloved Waylord of her home Galvamand, wrecking the estate, denying the gods she worships, etc. Galvamand was once a university, and now people bring any books they find to the house for safekeeping. They are kept in a secret room that only Memer and the Waylord can access with magic words. When a famous storyteller and his wife are invited to the city, it signals an opportunity for change.
In this context, all books take on a grand, magical quality, and Memer and the Waylord become grand, liberating figures simply because they love to read and do so in secret. How many times have we seen the glorified reader rebelling against the book-burners (or in this case, book-drowners)? Obviously I'm on the readers' side, but it's an old, boring conflict.
It doesn't make sense either. How is anyone supposed to run a business without writing things down? The Waylord actually suggests that business will suffer or collapse in future, but it's amazing that it hasn't already, or that the Alds have managed to thrive without writing of any kind. This is a quasi-medieval society, so there are no machines to do their record-keeping for them.
Le Guin is taking things a bit too far with the Alds, as well as taking a cheap shot at Islam, on which their religion is based - it's strictly monotheistic although there is a devil, and the Alds touch their heads to the ground four times when they pray. It resembles the more fanatical versions of Islam in its gross intolerance, violence, and the oppressive treatment of women (in Asudar they're not allowed out of the house). Of course Islam is quite different in that it has a holy book, and the first word of the Quran is "Read", but on the other hand the Prophet Muhammad was supposedly illiterate, as all the Alds obviously are.
In terms of narrative, it seemed a decent if bland coming-of-age story for a while. Memer's a strong character, and I still like the idea of a secret library, but as the conflict intensified it got thoroughly boring - too predictable, with too many easy, convenient resolutions. After being just as disappointed with A Wizard of Earthsea, I think I'll steer clear of Le Guin's YA and children's fiction from now on....more
For four years, 14-year-old Evie has been living with broken ribs after being abused by her grandparents. Although she was adopted by AmyRating: 7/10
For four years, 14-year-old Evie has been living with broken ribs after being abused by her grandparents. Although she was adopted by Amy and Paul, who proved to be loving, devoted parents, it took three years before she trusted them enough to tell them about the pain and what it meant. When the novel opens she wakes up in hospital after her operation. As a memento, the doctor gives her the piece of rib that they removed. When she goes home to recover, Evie’s Uncle Ben suggests she make something out of the piece of rib, and she decides on a dragon – her ideal pet. Uncle Ben carves the bone into shape and Evie spends her recovery time etching scales and other details into the bone.
She only wishes her dragon could be real: “my chest was tight with longing. If I had a dragon, I’d never be powerless again”. And, inexplicably, Evie’s desperate wish comes true – the dragon comes to life at night and becomes her tiny but powerful guardian. Under the dragon’s direction, Evie sneaks out of the house at night and roams the almost mystical marshland of her neighbourhood. It is the dragon’s way of helping her heal and come to terms with the abuse and neglect she has suffered. But the dragon has a mysterious plan too, and he’s guiding Evie in the preparations for it. There is unfinished business that Evie cannot handle on her own, and that Paul, Amy and Ben could never handle for her.
At first glance, The Bone Dragon looks like a fantasy novel, but in truth it’s more a psychological drama that walks a fine line between fantasy and realism. At the borderline is the dragon – we never know if it really comes to life or if it’s only a product of Evie’s imagination and desperation. Initially it seems real, and indeed the simplest interpretation of this story is that the dragon comes to life. But as the story progresses you realise that Evie isn’t doing anything that she couldn’t do by herself. The dragon is certainly real to her in some way, but it might simply be a psychological tool, a means of pushing herself do dangerous, daring things, or another persona that does things the original Evie can’t or won’t. Whether she’s conscious of this psychological split is debatable; both possibilities are equally unsettling.
It does however, make The Bone Dragon one of the most sophisticated and psychologically compelling YA novels I’ve encountered. As I read, and then as I went through my review notes and re-considered the story, I was increasingly impressed by the psychology of Evie’s character. Some of the flaws that had bothered me actually became less significant as I admired the novel’s strengths.
Twelve-year-old September is tired of her life in her parents’ house, so when the Green Wind alights at her window and offers to take her to FairylandTwelve-year-old September is tired of her life in her parents’ house, so when the Green Wind alights at her window and offers to take her to Fairyland on the back of the Leopard of Little Breezes, she accepts immediately.
From the start, September finds that Fairyland is nothing like what she could even have begun to expect. She nearly drowns when she arrives, and then has to choose between one of four unappealing paths – to lose her way, her life, her mind or her heart. Losing her way means going back the way she came. She doesn’t want to lose her life or her mind, so she choose to lose her heart, since “[a]ll children are heartless” (5) anyway, as hearts are heavy and it takes a long time to grow one.
On her journey, September agrees to retrieve a witch’s spoon from the evil Marquess who rules the land. The Marquess has introduced all sorts of rules and bureaucracy in an attempt to tame the world and make it more hospitable to children. She has even forbidden the fairy folk from flying, and had their wings strapped down with chains. She insists that fairy folk are too mischievous and dangerous by nature so
I fixed all that, September. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to invent bureaucracy in a world that didn’t even know what a ledger was? To earn their submission, even to the point of having their wings locked down? But I did it. I fixed it for children like you, so that you could be safe here and have lovely adventures with no one troubling you and trying to steal your soul away. I do you didn’t think you had charmed them all with you sparkling personality, child. (126)
The Marquess blackmails September into retrieving a magical sword in the midst of a periods forest. Luckily, September has friends to accompany her. She met a dragon-like creature called a Wyvern, who believes his father was a library. His name is A-through-L, and he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of any subject beginning with the letters A through L. September also earns the devotion of a tattooed, blue-skinned boy named Saturday who will grant you a wish if you wrestle him nearly to death.
Obviously, this is not your usual fairytale or a typical children’s fantasy, even though it has all the magic and wonder of one. But it’s the exactly the kind of thing I love and look for in a Valente novel. Nevertheless, I got off to a bad start. While I fell in love with Valente’s writing in works like The Habitation of the Blessed (2010) and Silently and Very Fast (2011) it has a very childish quality here that I immediately disliked. The abundance of detail that I normally find so enchanting about her style, here seemed excessive and irritating.
I’m not so easily dissuaded though, and I kept reading hoping I’d just get used the style, or that the book would hook me once the plot was in full swing. And, happily, the book kept growing on me until, by the end, I was completely and utterly enchanted by it.
Valente has written a lush fairytale full of strange creatures and places. It’s strongly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland with a nod to Narnia, particularly The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Valente’s stories often have a metafictional aspect to them, and there are quite a few comments about stories in general and this one in particular. September embarks on her adventure having read stories where girls are whisked away to other worlds, and she worries that she’s not ill-tempered, smart, brave or talented enough for this journey. She understands what’s expected of her too, because “What is a child brought to Fairyland for if not to thwart wicked rulers?” (139).
This is so much more than an echo of the works that inspired Valente though. Like the best rewritten fairytales, she builds on them in interesting ways. Unlike Alice in Wonderland for example, the novel considers why September – and other children – might want to escape to Fairyland for reasons other than simple curiosity, and despite the many dangers. At first it seems like September is just bored and irritable, looking to do something other than wash teacups. But she’s also unhappy at home – her “father ran away with the army” (19) and her mother is always working, no doubt struggling to make ends meet.
By spending time away from her mother however, September is given the chance to appreciate the practical things her mother – an engine mechanic – has taught her.
she was her mother’s daughter, always and forever, and felt sure whatever she set her hands to would work. Once, they had spent a whole afternoon fixing Mr Albert’s broken-up Model A so that September would not have to walk every day to school, which was several miles away. September would have been happy to watch her mother shoulder-deep in engine grease, but her mother wasn’t like that. She made September learn very well how a clutch worked, what to tighten, what to bend, and in the end, September had been so tired, but the car hummed and coughed just like a car ought to. That was what September liked best, now that her mother was not about and she had the freedom to think about her from time to time – to learn things, and her mother knew a great number of them. She never said anything was too hard or too dirty and had never once told September that she would understand when she was older. (158)
September’s skills, ingenuity and acquaintance with hard work are essential as she frequently encounters demanding obstacles and great danger. She understands that this is necessary:
There must be blood, the girl thought. There must always be blood. The Green Wind said that, so it must be true. It will all be hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or why else bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them. (49)
And she does bleed, many times. Her body is changed in ways that are far more scary than simply shrinking or growing as Alice did. One of the creepiest but most memorable moments is when she encounters her own Death, who appears to her as a small creature. Rather than run away, September cradles her Death in her arms and sings it to sleep.
Another way in which September differs greatly from Alice is that her actions and adventures have real consequences for herself and others. It’s not just a dream, and after a while you sense the gravity of what’s going on. Even though September is like Alice in that she goes from one bizarre encounter to another she always plays an active role and what she says and does matters to other people and the plot. She can’t just leave one thing behind and completely forget about it as she moves on to the next.
It was the gravity of this story that ultimately won me over. I think it was about midway through the novel, when September has to deal with something particularly threatening and scary, that I really started to enjoy the story. It’s still a children’s tale, but not a patronising one. September might be in a fantasy world, it very real to her and her friends, as is the quest she embarks on. She has to make sacrifices, face up to uncomfortable realities, and make choices that I would never have to want to make myself. The were several occasions where this book had me on the verge of tears.
It’s not all dark and desperate though; the novel is full of the delights you’d expect in a fairy world and more – whimsical customs, magical baths, strange mouthwatering food, pookas, spriggans, live bicycles who run (or rather, cycle) in herds, and a key who races after September because it knows she will need it. It’s lovely read for people who love modern, elaborate fairytales and stories that can be both grave and delightful. I recommend it.
I didn’t expect to get a copy of this from Penguin Books SA, and I wasn’t even going to read it, since paranormal romance is not my thing and I hate tI didn’t expect to get a copy of this from Penguin Books SA, and I wasn’t even going to read it, since paranormal romance is not my thing and I hate these lame pretty-girl YA covers. However, I’ve been away on a holiday of sorts, and found that I was too distracted to focus on more demanding reads, so I told myself to stop being a snob about this and just give Unearthly a shot. At the very least, I would learn a little more about the current trend of YA romances featuring mythical beings.
In Unearthly, the beings are angels and angel-bloods (human/angel hybrids). Sixteen-year old Clara Gardener is a Quartarius, a ‘quarter-angel’. Her mom Maggie is a Dimidius – a half-angel. When the novel opens, Clara is shown her ‘purpose’ – a vision of her reason for existing, her destiny. The vision shows a raging forest fire and a mysterious, beautiful boy she has to save. Using clues from her vision, Clara and her mother figure out where it’s supposed to take place and, along with Clara’s younger brother Jeffrey, they pack up their things and move to Jackson Hole, a small town in the forests of Wyoming.
At Jackson Hole High School, Clara learns that the boy she’s supposed to save is Christian. Christian Prescott.
Seventeen-year-old Ananna of the Tanarau is the pirate daughter of pirateThis review was initially published on my blog, Violin in a Void
Seventeen-year-old Ananna of the Tanarau is the pirate daughter of pirate parents, raised in the violent, seafaring lifestyle of a pirate. She dreams of one day captaining her own ship, although that seems unlikely now that her parents have arranged her marriage to the son of another pirate clan. Tarrin of the Hariri. Tarrin is “the most beautiful man [Ananna] ever saw” and looks like a god from a temple painting, but Ananna distrusts beautiful people and when Tarrin shows his disdain for her family name, she decides to run away. Ignoring Tarrin’s warnings that his family will send an assassin to kill her for this insult, Ananna steals a camel and disappears into the city.
She hides out for a short while, but the assassin comes after her as promised. They are fighting it out in the desert when a snake appears. It’s about to bite the assassin and save Ananna’s life, but she’s so shocked and scared when she sees it that she kills the snake, saving the assassin’s life instead and activating a curse. The good news is that Naji, the assassin, can no longer kill her – the curse forces him to protect her from harm because every time she gets hurt or even finds herself in danger, he experiences physical pain. So of course if she dies, he will too. Ananna is not obliged to hang around, but after seeing the suffering that she could cause by leaving Naji, she decides to travel with him and find a way of ending the curse.
Ananna and Naji’s world is rich with magic and bursting with the potential for adventure. Naji comes from an elite order of assassins who reside in The Mists, a mysterious Otherworld that exists in the same space as the normal one, but is invisible to it. Naji is skilled in the magic of blood and darkness and can move unseen by leaping from shadow to shadow. Ananna has always been untouched by magic, although her mother is a water witch and tried her best to teach her daughter the craft. Instead, Ananna takes after her father and frequently recalls his advice in times of trouble. She’s a quick-fingered thief, is deadly with a blade and perfectly at home when running a ship.
Her quest with Naji takes them across the desert, the ocean and to a magical floating island. They fight magical beings and cutthroat pirates, proving to be deadly young warriors. Although Naji has to protect Ananna in order to protect himself, she has to look after and save him a lot of the time as well, especially after he’s incapacitated from using too much magic or suffering the pain incurred by Ananna’s injuries. I was surprised but pleased to find that Clarke didn’t entirely romanticise the idea of Ananna as a pirate by glossing over the violence of her lifestyle for the sake of a YA audience. At seventeen, she’s familiar and comfortable with violence. She’s kills people, she’s used to being cut and bruised, and she doesn’t make a fuss about it. That’s not to say it’s a violent book – it still has a very gentle YA feel. The characters don’t make a big deal of the violence and none of it is very graphic, so the tone remains light.
There’s a delicate touch of romance to the story, but that doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of “growing romantic tension” advertised in the blurb. Any attraction between our two protagonists is completely one-sided. The story is narrated by Ananna, and she finds herself drawn to Naji in the same way that any seventeen-year-old girl would find herself attracted to a mysterious guy who she spends a lot of time alone with. He’s also perfect for her in terms of looks: Ananna distrusts very good-looking people, but although Naji is handsome, his face is marred by an ugly scar, so Ananna sort of gets the best of both worlds with him. Naji however, remains taciturn throughout the novel, and the only romance he acknowledges is the one that once existed between him and a river witch named Leila. He doesn’t smile, he barely speaks to Ananna unless he has to, and doesn’t show any interest in her beyond their quest. He’s not mean, but he’s more like an estranged brother than a potential boyfriend.
I was surprised that the feisty, garrulous Ananna didn’t make more of an effort to get Naji talking. Because Naji, for completely inexplicable reasons, flat out refuses to give Ananna any proper information about the curse that’s changed both their lives, where they’re going to end it, and what they’ll have to do to achieve that. And like Ananna, Naji is also being chased by people who want to kill him, but he doesn’t provide the details. In contrast to her tendency to be hot-headed and smart-mouthed, Ananna is willing to just follow Naji around and wait to see what happens, even though she could easily coerce him into telling all. I’m not sure why Clarke makes her characters act this way. Normally when authors make characters withhold information, it’s to force them to maintain a sense of mystery that could easily be lost. But this is not a mystery novel and it doesn’t need the suspense. When Naji does eventually reveal tiny bits of his plans and the details of how he was cursed, it makes no real difference to the story. So why hide these things in the first place? If anything, they could have given the story a greater sense of purpose.
This is one of many small problems that spoil the book. Ananna generally speaks well of her parents, so it’s unclear why they basically sold her off in marriage at the age of seventeen. After running away, Ananna expresses sadness at leaving her parents as well as frustration regarding the arranged marriage, but she never thinks about this extremely troubling issue for very long. After activating Naji’s curse, you’d think she’d be calculating enough to realise that having a skilled assassin to protect you is very useful when there’s a clan of pirates out to murder you, but she lets her pride and her temper get the better of her and almost leaves to fight her battles alone. The problem with the Hariri doesn’t end up being nearly as dire as expected though – after the fight with Naji and another battle out in the desert, they practically disappear from the plot. The story mostly concerns the quest to end Naji’s curse, but it moves very slowly. There’s plenty of action and adventure so it’s not boring, but this basically fills up the long spaces between the very brief pieces that actually move the main plot along.
Then the book ends without resolving anything. This didn’t bother me too much. The end approached without the characters having made any real progress in dealing with the curse, so I assumed the bulk of the story was being saved for the sequels. But mostly it didn’t bother me because this is one of those books that I don’t feel much of anything for. It’s just a quick easy read to pass the time and, in my case, finish a reading challenge. I couldn’t help but notice the flaws, but they didn’t elicit more than a shrug. Naji and Ananna’s adventures were enjoyable and I liked them both, but I’m not particularly interested in finding out how they solve their problems, so I won’t be reading the sequel. But at least I didn’t hate it, and this review was a lot easier to write than most....more
I got off to a very bad start with this. The first few chapters rush by in a hurried attempt to set up the plot. Imagine highlighting the most signifiI got off to a very bad start with this. The first few chapters rush by in a hurried attempt to set up the plot. Imagine highlighting the most significant scenes in a novel and taking out everything in between. One moment David is talking to a teacher, then there’s an explosion, the teacher dies, kids try to escape but are trapped in the school by soldiers. All this in two or three pages. In the next chapter it’s suddenly two weeks later, then a month, the gangs form, and they get told about the virus. The next chapter begins “One year later”. It’s like the authors (Lex Thomas is a pen name for Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies) were so eager to get to the main story that they wanted to get all the preceding stuff out of the way as fast as fucking possible. I love a pacey plot, but this is ridiculous.
It’s been a few weeks since the final events of Deadlands. Lele, Saint, Ash and Ginger are camping out the wilderness that is Cape Town because it’s tIt’s been a few weeks since the final events of Deadlands. Lele, Saint, Ash and Ginger are camping out the wilderness that is Cape Town because it’s too much of a risk to return to either the mall or their hideout outside the enclave. When they save a family from the zombies however, they have no choice but to take them to the enclave, so they decide to use the opportunity to buy supplies. It’s a big mistake. Corruption has festered, security has become more brutal, and the Resurrectionst government is about to distribute Wanted posters with the names and descriptions of the four Mall Rats. Their days of raiding the mall and selling the products in the enclave are definitely over.
It’s clear to Ash that they need to get the hell out of Cape Town. It’s a difficult decision to make, but they’ll be able to get away from the institution that wants them dead and perhaps find other survivors to help them fight the Resurrectionists. They might even find some answers to the many secrets surrounding the Guardians.
So begins their road trip across a decimated South Africa. They find new companions and new reasons to be hopeful about the future, but mostly it’s a hard journey, and not just because of what the Rotters have done to the country. Some of the Rats are keeping secrets that could destroy their friendships. What they find tests their characters and their relationships, and puts their lives at risk. As it turns out, there are far stranger and more dangerous things than Rotters or even Guardians out there, and the Mall Rats will be sniffing them out.
Blackwood is partly a supernatural mystery, but mostly it’s a novel about the blossoming romance between two troubled 17-year olds who find themselvesBlackwood is partly a supernatural mystery, but mostly it’s a novel about the blossoming romance between two troubled 17-year olds who find themselves trapped by family legacies. Their relationship is the best thing about the novel. The supernatural mystery is the worst. The result is decent, but it could have been so much better.
The Peculiars is a steampunk-ish coming-of-age novel about how difference breeds prejudice. The people who believe in Peculiars see them as sub-human,The Peculiars is a steampunk-ish coming-of-age novel about how difference breeds prejudice. The people who believe in Peculiars see them as sub-human, morally decrepit freaks. Scree has a dubious reputation as “the place where they send criminals. They say the forests are filled with hideous things”. “No one’s there but misfits, political enemies, and aliens”, Lena is told. It’s no surprise then, that all Peculiars are lumped together with thieves, murderers and anyone considered socially undesirable. The government uses this for political gain. Scree is rich in mineral resources, and by stating that Peculiars are non-human and playing into people’s fears and about them, the government is then able to declare Scree terra nullius – “a ‘land belonging to no one’”. It makes it easy for them to justify their actions there – stealing the land from the indigenous people and exploiting them as slave labour. It’s essentially the story of European colonialism. Scree is a metaphor for Africa or Australia, and the Peculiars represent the indigenous people of those lands.
It’s quite a while before you really see any of this in action though. The majority of the novel is set in Knob Knoster where Lena is trying to prepare for her Scree journey. As a result many reviewers have complained about the slow pace of this book. The blurb gives the impression that this is an action-adventure novel set in Scree, but in fact Lena doesn’t even get there until the last quarter of the novel. You also don’t get to see nearly as many Peculiars as you would expect – their very existence is portrayed as something of a myth for a while, although it’s obvious to the reader that they’re real.
Luckily, this didn’t bother me. I don’t trust blurbs, and in general I’m fine with slow-moving plots. I would have liked the Peculiars to play a larger part, but at least they’re intertwined with the politics and social views of the time. What really, really bothered me though, was Lena. She’s such a weak, thoughtless girl that she essentially spoiled the novel for me.
Nick Dunmore’s classmates are acting strangely. His basketball teammates keep missing practice and a lot of students are staying home sick or look likNick Dunmore’s classmates are acting strangely. His basketball teammates keep missing practice and a lot of students are staying home sick or look like they’ve been up all night. They’re all being very secretive about their behaviour, including Nick’s friend Colin who shuns Nick but is seen sucking up to two boys who are so uncool Nick calls them “The Freaks”. It’s all got something to do with a DVD that’s being passed among the students. Those who have it refuse to talk about it, and Nick – a popular jock – can’t understand why he’s being left out. When he finally gets his hands on a copy he finds that it’s an amazingly realistic multi-player online fantasy role-playing game called Erebos.
The game has weird rules. Always play alone. “Never mention your real name in the game. Never mention the name of your character outside the game.” Never speak about the content of the game to other players or post information on the internet. Don’t copy the DVD unless instructed. The strangest rule of all, is that players only have one chance to play – if they die or break any of the rules, it’s over and they cannot play again.
Normally, I’m averse to YA set in schools, preferring the more adventurous kind, but Maxfield Academy isn’t your average school and I loved this novelNormally, I’m averse to YA set in schools, preferring the more adventurous kind, but Maxfield Academy isn’t your average school and I loved this novel. Unlike some stories with a mystery, it doesn’t waste your time pretending that nothing’s wrong, even though you already know what’s wrong because you read about it in the blurb. There’s no point in making Benson think he’s in a normal school, so as soon as he arrives there’s a student to explain everything to him. Benson is as appalled by this as anyone should be, and isn’t shy about voicing his views – the school is a prison, everyone is insane for pretending that things are normal, and he’s going to get the hell out.