This is the eighth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.
by Jo Anderton
Angry Robot, 2011, ISBN: 978 0 85766 154 8
DEBRIS, by Joanne Anderton, was initially published in the UK in 2010, but I’ve read the US edition that followed a year later. So, that clarification out of the way, it’s a pretty fine debut novel from the Sydneysider.
The world is fascinating: one where the haves build things, power things, move things by manipulating matter in the form of pions, while the have nots are left with far more mundane methods of constructing and lighting their world. As with any economy, there is ‘waste’ matter: in the case of pions, there is debris — random matter that can interrupt the systems of pions and cause lights to go out, water not to heat, even buildings to become unstable. As there are highly regarded wielders of pions, there are scorned debris collectors — akin to nightsoil collectors.
This first person account is that of Tanyana, a highly skilled and talented architect, whose career takes a plunge for the worse when an outside force destroys her crowning glory, leaving her broken in body and unable to manipulate pions.
What begins as a study of a person who no longer finds themselves in the upper echelons of society, shunned by her peers and unable even to pay her rent, changes emphasis to a mystery as Tanyana discovers she’s also a gifted wielder of debris, set on a course to uncover a great social secret and a threat to the world.
The first volume of a series, Debris is a highly enjoyable tale in which Tanyana’s view of the social strata is rebuilt through her own experience with the under classes. Tanyana is convincingly drawn and likeable and her society is well described. The pion technology, melding with a Dickensian norm, is innovative and rather fetching, especially as the ‘silver’ in Tanyana’s body reacts to external threats with all the yummy visuals of Witchblade.
The second half lags a little as the conspiracy elements of the story overtake the more social aspects and the narrative drive falls a little short — my compulsion to get to the climax wasn’t great, but I was enjoying the world exploration and the unveiling mystery; I enjoy stories where the perception of history is at odds with the reality. A little vagueness in the description, the interruption of action scenes with dialogue and introspection, also served to slow the story in these crucial latter stages. While Tanyana’s arc here is satisfyingly self-contained, the underlying big-picture narrative hasn’t left me hungry to know what happens next.
Debris is a rewarding read, steeped in shadow and intrigue, and Anderton, through this and her highly regarded short fiction, has clearly pegged herself as an Aussie writer on the rise.
Read more about Joanne at her 2012 Snapshot
Previous Challenge reviews:
- The Resurrectionists, by Kim Wilkins, horror.
- Sea Hearts, by Margo Lanagan, fantasy.
- Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
- The Courier’s New Bicycle, by Kim Westwood, fantasy.
- The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror
- The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
- Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.