AWWNYRC#5: Burn Bright, indeed!

This is the fifth book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

Burn Bright

by Marianne de Pierres
Random House, 2011, ISBN: 978 1 86471 988 8

burn bright by marianne de pierres

THERE’S a lot to enjoy in Burn Bright, the first of a YA dystopian series by Marianne de Pierres. Mdp has scored avid followings with her previous series — the cyberpunk dystopia of Parrish Plessis, the sprawling space opera of Sentients of Orion and her Tara Sharp crime series — and this has tapped the fanatical YA market with even more gusto: a soundtrack song, online campaigns … whoa.

It’s no surprise, as MdP knows how to put a story together, and this one comes in some truly cool trappings: a nocturnal, youthful party world watched over by vampire-like sentinels, and lots of secrets in the dark. Her heroine, Retra, has quite the journey too, right down to a name change, though by story’s end, one wonders if Naif is really so accurate. Clearly, she’s still got some learning to do, but she’s well on her way to adulthood. Yes, this book packs some powerful metaphors.

This first volume introduces Inoxia, a hilly realm of constant night in which the pursuit of pleasure is paramount for its young population who are runaways from other surrounding realms of various fantastic, and not so fantastic, proportions. In one, a hunter-gatherer society can trap bat-like creatures for mounts. In Retra’s, it’s Puritanism 101, right down to child abuse dressed up as moral policing.

Inoxia is a fantasy land, reached through a kind of vortex beset by pirates. If this sounds a little like Alice sliding down a rabbit hole, it’s a far updated version, and the lost boys and girls don’t so much stay young, as disappear once they reach a certain point in their early 20s. While the pirates are the nemesis of the land, the faires are also fearsome. Called Ripers, the vampire-like overlords police the young party animals, dolling out drugs, food and clothing as required. Of course there is no free lunch, and Retra discovers the true dark side of Inoxia’s society. Freedom, or at least escape, comes at a price.

australian women writers challenge 2012Mdp has created a distinctive and believable world and her character work is a delight as Retra, through a transformative experience key to adolescent maturity, grows into a new individual. While the second half suffers from annoying, but perhaps unavoidable repetition of recent events, it charges towards its climax and the jumping off point – a new bright day – for book 2.

With Burn Bright, we’ve been given a strong starting point and an enticing look into a world where colonisation has taken some bizarre avenues. Quite the delight.


Previous Challenge reviews:

  • 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.
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    Andrew McGahan’s White Earth chosen for Our Story

    white earth by andrew mcgahan

    As part of the National Year of Reading, the Our Story program set out to select one text from each state and territory to fly the flag for a reading campaign. Six titles were shortlisted for each; the winners were announced earlier today.

    Queensland’s book is The White Earth, by Andrew McGahan, and it’s a cracker story. It riffs off the Mabo land rights decision and the incredible fear and uncertainty in rural Australia about the right to continue to live on and work land that had, in some instances, been in the same family for several generations. A lot of terra nullius talk, a lot of right wing clap trap, some very real concerns.

    McGahan draws on his childhood in setting the piece on the Darling Downs, where a young boy and his widowed mother come to live on their grandfather’s property, there to see the politics of the era played out and to uncover some unsettling family truths harking back to the days of white occupation and settlement.

    The other finalists in the Queensland selection were:

  • Affection, by Ian Townsend (Townsville, 1900, the plague, a social scandal)
  • Brisbane, by Matthew Condon (one in a series of capital city ‘biographies’)
  • House on the Hill, by Estelle Pinney (romance in the west)
  • Journey to the Stone Country, by Alex Miller (a collision of colonial past and the impact in the present present)
  • The Tall Man, by Chloe Hooper (Doomadgee and Palm Island under the microscope, with a wider view).
  • AWWNYRC #3: The Road, by Catherine Jinks

    This is the third book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    The Road

    by Catherine Jinks
    Allen & Unwin, 2004, ISBN: 1 74114 356 X

    the road by catherine jinks

    IT’S no surprise that The Road namechecks The Twilight Zone and The X-Files several times. It’s premise is quite supernatural, taking more than a dozen travellers and subjecting them to the strange phenomenon of not being able to get anywhere. This particular stretch of rural road is cursed, it seems; running out of petrol is the least of their problems.

    The story begins with a woman and her infant son hiding from her abusive partner on a rural property. He finds them, bad things happen, and then the weirdness kicks in.

    Out on the bitumen, car after car of disparate travellers — holiday makers, a truckie, locals going about their business — are caught up in the loop, driving without getting anywhere outside a certain radius.

    It takes a while for this large cast to be assembled, primarily because each group gets its own point of view. We find out who they are, what has brought them to be driving this stretch of highway, what they hope to find at their destination. The characters are wonderfully drawn, but the back stories become tedious, a way of trying to provoke some care for the fate of each increasingly desperate set of travellers, but ultimately operating more like speed bumps or cattle grids, forcing the story to slow right down while the latest piece is introduced to the board. Few of the pieces have much to do; their back stories generally tend to be of negligible connection to their plight or the situation’s resolution.

    australian women writers challenge 2012There are two characters who provide some continuity, thankfully, but this is a far cry from the incredible tension to be found in the work of another master of this kind of ensemble story, Stephen King. Perhaps because the situation the stranded travellers find themselves in never manifests a deeper message — ordinary people behave ordinarily — or because the characters have only the vague sense of the danger they’re in. The reader knows, which is where the suspense comes from as the story picks up its pace.

    Having said that, however, the story is, once it gets out of low range somewhere around the halfway mark, most enjoyable, primarily for its use of landscape. There are some wonderfully descriptive scenes of nature gone awry; provoked, it seems, into being an agent of justice. And Jinks’ prose is a delight.

    This is one of those yarns where patience is rewarded — where the destination is actually more rewarding than the journey.


    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • AWWNYRC #2: The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts

    This is the second book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    The Shattered City

    Book 2 of the Creature Court trilogy
    by Tansy Rayner Roberts
    Harper Voyager, 2011, ISBN: 9 780 7322 8944 7

    shattered city by tansy rayner roberts

    IN WHICH the Tasmanian author furthers the tale begun in Power and Majesty (reviewed here). For those who came in late: the city of Aufleur is under attack, with interdimensional rifts trying to destroy it overnight. Defending the city is a bunch of hedonistic and political shape shifters, led by a Power and Majesty. In book 1, the ruling P&M was whisked away through a split in the sky, and was replaced — not by the most likely candidate, the damaged and reluctant Ashiol, but seamstress Velody.

    It’s a complex world, with Italian Renaissance overtones, and both the workings of the magical world and its relationship with the physical are explored further in The Shattered City. Velody grows into her role on the great chess board, introducing a new regime of polite behaviour — of community — into the fractious, scheming Court, while her fellow seamstresses — Rhian, all but neglected for much of this story, and fiery Delphine — also find their place in the new world order.

    australian women writers challenge 2012The actual story that drives this book — an assassin in the ranks and the sense that the city faces its most deadly threat yet — takes a while to get going, but there’s no time for slacking off. There are so many points of view, often thrown altogether within each chapter, and some make only one or few appearances: it’s easy to lose track of just whose head you’re in.

    It’s a strength that the immediate story arcs of books 1 and 2 are both resolved between their covers, while the larger story stretches across them. As with the first, the second delivers some delicious moments, beautifully dressed and dead sexy, and what a relief it is to finally have the plot point that kicked the whole thing off finally out in the open. Rayner Roberts is wise to not present it as a surprise, but use it as leverage for a greater goal. The Creature Court series offers a layered, detailed, credible world, peopled with a cast of complex, motivated individuals. How fortunate that, given the impending showdown foreshadowed here, that book 3, Reign of Beasts, is out now!


    This review has also been posted at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, who made the review copy available.

    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • AWWNYRC Review #1: Frantic, by Katherine Howell

    I joined up with the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge and have started on my list of 10 books by, you guessed it, Australian women writers to read this year, the national year of reading. Here’s the first review:

    Frantic

    Katherine Howell
    Pan Macmillan, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 4050 3797 6

    frantic by katherine howell


    FRANTIC by name, frantic by nature. And intriguing, too.

    This is the debut novel from Katherine Howell, who drew on her experience as a paramedic in telling the story of heroine Sophie, a Sydney paramedic. Sophie’s husband, Chris, is shot at the door of their house and their baby, Lachlan, is kidnapped. Every parent’s nightmare, right?

    Add in a vicious bunch of bank robbers who might be coppers and a relationship going through a rough patch, and you’ve got a compelling thriller anchored in the world of the emergency services.

    Also starring is police detective Ella Marconi, whose career has stalled due to her run-in with a boss.

    It’s not hard to see why the novel has brought Howell kudos, a series and a following. The medical and police procedural rings true, without the bells and whistles of a Hollywood performance. The law is not so much an ass as a mule that we trust to plod its way across the legal terrain, getting there in the end. But of course, Lachlan doesn’t have time for plodding: Sophie is prepared to do anything to get him back. Howell’s portrayal of the mother’s anxiety is spot-on. Frantic, indeed.

    australian women writers challenge 2012The story puts the reader in an interesting seat. Certain medical emergencies attended by Sophie have varying degrees of import with the core storyline, and the reader must decide which are relevant, and how. The event that triggers the story — the shooting of Sophie’s policeman husband Chris — is clearly not what the police, a little mysteriously, seem to believe it is. Why isn’t Chris dead? Why is Lachlan missing? Why the note? It just doesn’t add up.

    And then Chris gets his own point of view, so his role, while murky, is largely understood. And then, perhaps halfway through the book, the villain is revealed, and the reader is no longer left in the position of a whodunit but, rather, the position of an observer watching the web being woven, and why, and wondering who will be ultimately trapped.

    It’s a methodical tale, competently told, with attention to detail — leaves in drains, the smell of food — and no grandstanding. Marconi is neither Sherlock Holmes nor Dirty Harry. Sophie is not an action hero. Chris is not Chuck Norris. No one gets out unscathed or unaffected, not even Marconi.

    That down-to-earth approach is perhaps the novel’s most endearing feature. The resolution leaves the questions satisfactorily answered. It’s no surprise that Marconi is still going strong, five books later.

    Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

    australian women writers challenge 2012So, I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, because it seems like a worthy way to help celebrate 2012 as the National Year of Reading.

    I’m going to be an official dabbler, reading across more than one genre, and I’m setting the bar at the Franklin level of challenge — 10 books. And here’s the likely suspects:

    1. The Shattered City, Tansy Rayner Roberts
    2. The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
    3. Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres
    4. The Road, Catherine Jinks
    5. Frantic, Katherine Howell
    6-9. I figure the Twelfth Planet Press Twelve Planets titles will fill these spots, but if not, I’ll slot Kimberley Freeman’s Duet in there (I can see her shaking her head at me now).
    10. Carpentaria, Alexis Wright.

    What a great kick in the pants to catch up on some reading I’ve been meaning to do for ages!

    If spec fic’s your thing, or you’d like to sample it, then Tansy Rayner Roberts has assembled a list of award-winning Aussie women’s titles to plunder, and the AWW site also has multi-genre suggestions, too.