It’s February, and I’ve only just got around to finally signing up for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge, which seeks to enhance the profile of — you guessed it — Australian women writers. Since it is the second month of the year already, I’m going to set a low bar, and commit to reviewing four titles this year. I’ve got no idea what they’ll be yet (although I reckon two of these will probably figure), but I intend for them to be diverse. And thin. Thin-ish. Yes, that will probably help. Whatever your feelings about gender bias in reviewing and commentary, you’ll find this project has created a rather useful resource for those looking for a suggested reading list. Check it out!
The Last Stormlord/Night’s Cold Kiss
Herewith two reviews of recently released Aussie novels, and a handy link to a very cool review site at The Guardian featuring Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
Glenda Larke, an Australian now living in Malaysia, has lived on four continents, but it is her experiences in arid Western Australia and Tunisia that appear to most inform The Last Stormlord (HarperCollins, $22.99), the first book of the Watergivers series.
Larke impressed with her breakout, big-publisher debut, The Aware, which I loved for its dystopian air and gorgeous world-building.
The Last Stormlord, a saga of an empire facing its demise, is set in a dry coastal realm bordered by mountains and desert where life revolves around the possession and acquisition of water.
Key to the survival of the city states is the Stormlord, the last of the line powerful enough to take water from the sea and send it inland to break in designated areas, bringing rain to the needy. Under the Stormlord is an aristocracy of lesser powered men and women with varying ability to manipulate water, physically moving it or even removing it from living creatures. This apparent magical power over the essential element has kept the status quo against the nomadic desert dwellers for centuries, but now that is changing. Political ambitions give sway to treachery and murder and the world is set for upheaval.
Caught up in this chaos are two teenagers, Shale and Terelle. Both possess considerable water powers of different ilks, and both find themselves being used as tools in political machinations. The star-crossed pair are given precious little time for adolescence.
Like a brewing storm, the story gains weight and power as it gathers momentum, the considerable cast rising to strike clear identities as ideals of honour and survival clash, and love lies bleeding. There are some gentle religious barbs along the way, too.
Larke’s world-building is a great strength of the story, the dryness and heat permeating the fabric of her society, with enough touches of the fantastic to excite the imagination. This, combined with a bloody climax, leaves the reader keen for the next instalment.
Aussie writer Tracey O’Hara has enjoyed some happy hunting in the United States with Night’s Cold Kiss (HarperCollins, $19.99), her debut novel, the first of the three-book Dark Brethren series. Now the paranormal romance has been released in her home country.
Set primarily in New York, it covers familiar ground for those who enjoy paranormal romance, still one of the hottest of genres.
Antoinette Petrescu, deeply affected by the murder of her parents by a death-loving vampire called Dante, is a slayer of the undead, and an unnaturally gifted one at that. But a deadly conspiracy throws her into the path of the charismatic and filthy rich vampire Christian, and sparks erupt despite her best intentions.
Christian is an agent for a covert, quasi-government organisation that polices the paranormal community with a view to keeping an uneasy truce brokered years before between vampires and humans.
Now someone’s rocking the boat and Antoinette’s past is coming back to bite her – quite literally.
Planes, helicopters, fast cars and elegant upstate mansions all figure as Antoinette is exposed to the other side of vampire existence – she truly gets to see how the other half live as she meets Christian’s well-to-do vampire family and household staff.
Vampire society is well-described, with the usual dividing line between those who try to maintain a sense of humanity and those who embrace their inner beast, revelling in the kill and their otherness. There is enough insight into the realm of the shapechangers to suggest further exploration in coming books.
O’Hara hits all the right buttons for fans of the genre with her tale of desire, betrayal and revenge, providing a pacy and at times steamy adventure with a strong, lusty subplot. This makes up for the occasional lack of sparkle on the page and some haphazard editing as the story builds to a fittingly explosive climax, and overdrawn denouement to springboard the reader into book two.