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South of Darkness

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  624 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Thirteen-year-old Barnaby Fletch is a bag-and-bones orphan in London in the late 1700s.

Barnaby lives on his wits and ill-gotten gains, on streets seething with the press of the throng and shadowed by sinister figures. Life is a precarious business.

When he hears of a paradise on the other side of the world – a place called Botany Bay – he decides to
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published November 1st 2014 by Pan Macmillan Australia
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Barnaby Fletch had not known anything in his young life beyond what the vagabonds and homeless all called “Hell”. This den of iniquity was officially known on the maps as East Smithfield and the local church was St Martin’s – the mid to late 1700s in London was a desolate place; a place where only the rich prospered. So young Barnaby, orphaned at a tender age and having to survive in the slums of “Hell” was always hungry, fairly well friendless and trying to survive with petty theft his only opt ...more
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it
6/11 - I'm a big fan of Marsden's Tomorrow series and I think this is his first full length novel since Circle of Flight, the final book of the spin-off series The Ellie Chronicles, so of course I picked it up at the library without even checking out the blurb. It didn't matter what it was about, it was John Marsden, what more was there to think about? Unfortunately, once I started reading I realised it wasn't quite as simple as that.

Supposedly this is Marsden's first foray into the world of 'adult' fiction.
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

John Marsden is best known for 'The Tomorrow Series' though he has written and published at least a dozen more middle grade to young adult novels as well as a handful of non fiction works.

"Having been asked by the Rvd Mr Johnson to jot down a few notes about my upbringing and the manner of my arrival in the colony, I will attempt to do so, but I should say at the outset that I have little of interest to relate. I have not contributed much worth to the world, as will no doubt become obvious in the pag
Feb 08, 2015 rated it liked it
This was a pleasant enough read but it was basically a little dull. It includes a lot of historical fact which is pretty interesting but the story is rather ordinary and has been done before many times and better. It was very like a pale version of a Bryce Courtenay book only shorter. I quite enjoyed it but would not go round telling everyone to read it:)
Nov 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015, historical
I love reading Australian history, particularly the convict era. This book reminds me of one of my favourite jokes. A pom had just flown into Australia, and was he asked at immigration if he had a criminal record. The pom replied that he hadn't realised it was still a requirement.

I've read quite widely about convict history; both from history books and primary sources. If there is one thing Tasmania has done well, it is preserve its convict history. I have physical descriptions, heig
It troubles me to say what I’m about to say about this novel because I loved everything I’ve read from John Marsden, and the context of the book is an important part of Australian history. There’s no doubt that South of Darkness is informative, skillfully researched, and the voice and mannerism of his characters for this time period is authentic, but the story just didn’t engage me. I felt like was reading a history textbook; it was rather boring at times.
Sorry John Marsden…
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aussie-author
Hello, John Marsden! We meet again! I don't think I've read a John Marsden since the Tomorrow series in my teens - which will always hold a special place in my book memories!

Told through the eyes of Barnaby Fletch, an orphaned homeless boy living in the desolate slums of London in the 1700's, every day is a struggle just to survive. Hunger is plentiful, friends are few. One night he hears about a wonderful place: Botany Bay - here the sun is warm, the food plentiful and the world a paradise.
S.K. Munt
I was nervous starting this book because I haven't read a 'new' John Marsden novel in about 6 years, and though his other books are my favourite series-ever- I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to connect with a new one out of loyalty to the old, because the Tomorrow series set a bar for me that is yet to be hurdled by any other author.

But he came to my daughter's school last week as a part of the Whitsunday Voices festival, and I just had to purchase his latest one so that I could
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have been meaning to read John Marsden for a while however I think I started with the wrong book. I just couldn't connect to this novel on an emotional level and found it slow.

My ancestors were sent out on convict ships and I have read their letters home. They were obsessed with rations after starving in England and the wonder of conditions in Australia but totally heartbroken by loss of family. My mother also volunteers to transcribe the surgeon journals from the Irish Women convict ships. L
This was...I don't want to say "a massive disappointment", but I'm kinda sorta going to have to. I grew up on John Marsden books, and one of the things I've always adored about his books is the way that he creates characters that you care about almost instantly AND a plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

In contrast, this had neither. In fact, it felt a lot like he'd been helping a kid study colonial history for school and ended up with a whole lot of facts and figures about the Third Fl
Ben Langdon
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Not sure what to make of this book. While Marsden is famous for his dynamic teenage and young adult protagonists and his writing is generally cutting-edge contemporary - this book seemed a bit flat.

Really flat.

It told a story that seemed very familiar. Impoverished boy starts life in London, gets into crime, gets sent to Australia and .... it's all very familiar. I don't think it is what Marsden fans will expect or want, but then again if this is Marsden's first foray int
Annette Chidzey
Jul 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: the-lost-swimmer
I found this first adult book by Marsden somewhat hard to assess. It had patches of intrigue and at times was quite compelling to the point where I found myself turning pages almost despite myself as I am not normally engaged by older convict and colonial language and descriptions. Though some outcomes were a little implausible as well, the novel clearly concludes poised to continue the story of Barnaby Fletch in early NSW. Despite being somewhat ambivalent overall, I will await the next account ...more
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was really dull. The narrative was stilted, mainly because he put an endless number of "little did I know..." or "i was soon to learn..." Or similar plot spoiling cliches. Considering the journey the protagonist went through, it was a very boring read. Still felt like a kids book, wish I hadn't bought it
Ellie Boyd
May 19, 2015 rated it liked it
3 stars because I love this author.

The book was underwhelming, slow off the mark and generally uninspiring. It was hard to believe it was written by the same brilliant man who created the Tomorrow series.
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
I persisted with this as I had it in audio book format which makes it easy to do chores, work out at the gym and go for a drive whilst listening to the book. Otherwise I think I would have ditched it. This is one of Mr Marsden's few "adult" books but I'm afraid it still reads as a "young adult" book. Worse still, it reads like it was written by a "young adult". Really quite immature examinations of the protagonist's feelings as we work through his journey from the streets of London to the bush o ...more
Andrew Roberts
3.5 stars. It felt like the book never quite went anywhere - there was a slow build up to nothing in particular. However I enjoyed the realistic depiction of life on the streets of London and the in colonial NSW. I hope that there is a sequel that explores more of colonial life and the journey of Barnaby Fletch.
May 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a big of John Marsden, I was a little nervous about this book. I was not sure if I would like the departure from usual explorations of modern teen life & relationships. I soon realised that I had nothing to worry about. South of Darkness is another example of frank, honest and insightful storytelling from the perspective of a young person. 4 ★
Jan 01, 2017 rated it liked it
John Marsden's first foray into writing for an adult audience is solid, but nothing special. Something is missing from his writing which ordinarily translates so beautifully for younger audiences. I didn't really feel anything for the main character in this novel, and towards the end I began to lose interest in his fate altogether. I found the premise of the novel (young orphan boy deliberately gets himself arrested to pursue a better life in the colonies of Australia) very interesting, but the ...more
A.B. Shepherd
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
In May of 2011, long before I was writing book reviews, I discovered John Marsden. He is the award winning and brilliant Australian author of The Tomorrow Series and The Ellie Chronicles. The Tomorrow Series starts with Tomorrow, When the War Began, which was made into a movie a few years ago.

This series is set in modern day and revolves around six teenagers who are camping in the bush when Australia is attacked and overrun by an unidentified enemy. The teenagers return to town to fi
Dec 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
Whilst a fan of John Marsden's work in general this book is very slow moving. It seems well researched, but hard for any character but the main character to grow on you. The 'reminiscing' style of the writing did not work for me. Did i mention it was very slow paced? Maybe the next in the series will be a bit more lively.
Alexandra Taylor
oh I loved this book. john Marsden is one of my favorite authors and while I love the first fleet I didn't know much about the third. There are enough similarities and enough detail that it was enjoyable.
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book, in my head it reads a lot lie Life of Pi. John's books always tend to the darker side of human nature but he has an unfailing joy and wonder of he world even in its dark moments.
Leah (Jane Speare)
Mar 16, 2015 marked it as dnf
Interesting story, well written I think. But it couldn't keep my interest. DNF page 128. Ah well, worth a shot.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great book..although I listened rather than read it. Some coincidences seem incredible, but that's life.
Saturday's Child
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Having read and enjoyed some of John Marsden's young adult works I was really keen to read this novel and I was not disappointed. It is a well crafted plot told by an engaging narrator.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
I don’t think it was possible to be a book-loving child in the 1990s/early 2000s and not know John Marsden. Not love John Marsden, even. Tomorrow, When the War Began, So Much to Tell You, Checkers, The Rabbits...

He was an instant-read for me: no matter what the book was about, I’d read it because it was Marsden.

But this. Oh dear.

Firstly, this was shelved at my library as an adult book, but he’s famous for his YA works, and the blurb made this sound like it would land firmly in YA territory too. A ch
May 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Sadly disappointing. The intended audience is supposedly adults, but I think it is more aptly aimed towards youth. Marsden includes some interesting historical facts, but the writing fails to fully engage the reader, leaving no room for anything to be inferred. The Dickensian English first person narrative is unconvincing coming from Barnaby, a street urchin, despite the fact that he obviously does become quite well educated later in life. I will recommend the book to my 12 year old son, but won ...more
Susan Austin
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn’t find this book very convincing. Many things seemed implausible, including the supposed naivety of a street kid, being able to outrun an Aboriginal tribe in the bush and meeting up with the long-lost son and the priest in NSW. The ending was also a bit odd, basically leading to a sequel to tell the rest of the story. Has a sequel even been written? I don’t think I’d read it if it has.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
It was an interesting historical read of early London and then Australia as a early convict. The story became more exciting as it went on but was not a page turner. The main character Barnaby is a likeable kid and the story is told in a innocent way. Would have liked to see him develop into adulthood and see what became of him.
Sky Mykyta
Aug 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read about a quarter of the way through and decided I was done. Certainly doesn’t read like an adult book and though I loved his Tomorrow series, this one is not doing it for me. The moralising talk about God and church is boring. And the point where Barnaby is essentially apologist for his pedophilic employer pretty much did me in.
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There is more than one author with this name in the database, see f.e. John Marsden

His first book, So Much To Tell You, was published in 1987. This was followed by Take My Word For It, a half-sequel written from the point of view of another character. His landmark Tomorrow series is recognized as the most popular book series for young adults ever written in Australia. The first book of this series, Tomorrow Wh
“Still without looking at me, Silas responded to my question. ‘He fell in love with Madame Geneva. That were the real story of his downfall, though his mother won’t have it at any price.’ I knew well who, or rather what, Madame Geneva was. It was one of the names people in Hell, and no doubt various other places, used for gin. Along with Hell water, strip-me-naked, bunter’s tea, blue ruin and meat-drink-washing-and-lodging. And a dozen others. I had seen many men and women in love with Madame Geneva, whatever alias she went under, and she did not serve them well.” 0 likes
“some men run out of stories, of conversation, in no time at all. Either so little has happened to them or, more likely, they are incapable of understanding or retaining what has happened to them, and so they soon find themselves with nothing to say. Such a man makes a terrible companion.” 0 likes
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