Allen & Unwin, 2016
All Che wants to do is get a girlfriend, move up from training to sparring in boxing, go home to Australia and…keep his little sister Rosa under control. Not the usual list a 17 year old boy might have. But Che’s sister Rosa is not the usual type of girl. Che’s convinced she is a psychopath (or more properly, has antisocial personality disorder), and has been studying her since she was very small – nothing he has witnessed has made him think otherwise, from the way she manipulates people around her to the outright awfulness of having her best friend kill her own guinea pig. But it seems being ten excuses a lot of strange behaviour, in the eyes of his parents at least, and most other people only see the charm in Rosa’s cleverness, taking her cute smile and precocious behaviour at face value. Can Che manage to keep her in check while struggling with everything else going on in his life, when no one else seems to think there is a problem?
Given Larbalestier’s previous form in work such as Liar, I fully expected to both devour this book and come out at the end with perhaps more questions than I had going in, and I wasn’t disappointed on either count. I felt constantly off-kilter while reading, always waiting for the other shoe to fall, wondering if what I was seeing, filtered through the lens of Che’s narration, was accurate, consistent, realistic, and this was a masterstroke by the author. You really never knew just where you stood in terms of the events of the book, even though Che proved again and again to be a reliable recounter of events, because at the back of your mind there was always a seed of concern, which Larbalestier carefully nurtured with drops of information about Che, his family, and past events, until uncertainty bloomed through the suspense of the story.
There’s a genuine darkness to this book that reminded me of Kaaron Warren’s Slights, albeit being aimed at a younger audience. The true terror comes from the normality of the story – this could be a real person (and let’s face it, the research suggests there are actually plenty of people like Rosa out there). It’s eerie and the ongoing dread of waiting for Rosa, or possibly other characters, to do something awful is quite real. I will be very surprised if this book doesn’t show up on a few Awards shortlists next year.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Mary lives in an isolated world where fear is constant, and danger ever present. Her village is locked away from whatever else may be out there in the world, forever sequestered by the threat of the plague of “undead” that surround them outside the fences. The society Mary lives in is harsh, confining … and facing extinction.
Within a few chapters, Mary’s already fragile world is turned upside down – her mother dead, her village destroyed, and Mary on the run with her betrothed, beloved (they aren’t the same person), brother, and pregnant sister-in-law, fleeing into the unknown only because the threat behind them is more dire. Mary’s young life has been filled with pain and death, but at least she had always had the sanctuary of the village, and the “known”. Continue reading
A Newsflesh collection
Rise is billed as a collection of short fiction, one that brings together every Newsflesh story published so far, along with two brand new, never-before-seen novellas in the world. To me, if seems like more than a collection; the pieces are so deeply connected, enmeshed in the broader universe that Grant (aka Seanan McGuire) has created, with characters crossing from piece to piece, their backstories ever expanding, that it really deserves the moniker of mosaic fiction. Every piece is a building block in the greater whole, and the length of the stories also helps it feel more like a long-form work; the reader is immersed from beginning to end.
I am a massive fan of the Newsflesh world. I had, I believed, hunted down and devoured every related work already, so I was delighted (if somewhat chagrinned) to realise that two of the previously published stories were also new to me, so I got FOUR new Newsflesh pieces, which was very exciting. Each story has a short introduction by the author, offering a little back story to the circumstances surrounding its birth. While these tidbits are little pearls for the rabid fan, and sometimes offer acknowledgement to supporters of the author through the writing process, there were a couple that were a bit spoilery. They perhaps would have worked better as postscripts rather than intros, and it might be worth a new reader skipping them on the first time around. But the stories…oh, the stories…
If you have not read Feed, Deadline and Blackout, you cannot, MUST NOT, read this book. Go away and read the Newsflesh trilogy. All of it. Go on, I’ll wait. You won’t regret it. Okay, you’re back? You didn’t stop at the end of Feed, did you? You read ALL of them? Right, good. Now we can continue.
SPOILERS FOR THE NEWSFLESH TRILOGY (but hopefully not the Rise stories) UNDER THE CUT…
Book 1, Newsflesh
In 2014, humanity cured cancer and beat the common cold. The scientists responsible for these marvels could never have imagined the consequences of their actions.
Twenty-five years after two wondrous cures combined to create a scourge on civilization, the world is a different place to that we know now but still retains similar political and business regimes. The press, as today, plays a major role in this new world, but the format of journalism has evolved to place bloggers squarely on the frontline. Adopted siblings Georgia and Shaun Mason are two of these bloggers, taking the lead in the presidential race of candidate Senator Ryman, a first for the blog-o-sphere. Smart, savvy and prepared to take on zombies and politicians head to head for an exclusive, the Masons soon find themselves embroiled in a far bigger story than even they imagined. Continue reading
Picador (2010) / Twelfth Planet Press (2016)
Alex Bishop has had his heart broken and his life twisted up in knots by Madigan Sargood. Childhood friends, adult lovers, Madigan’s reappearance in Alex’s life causes havoc, throwing him into chaos and causing him to question his own values and beliefs. Then Madigan commits suicide and Alex doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel, or why he is driven to find out the reason why. And why he can’t get Madigan out of his head. Literally.
I didn’t know what to expect from this book. Kirstyn McDermott is a known quantity as a quality writer of dark short stories, but the novel form is not necessarily a smooth transition for authors. However, McDermott evolves easily to the longer mode, creating clearly defined characters interacting in a detailed world and sustaining the narrative over the length of the novel, with the thread of supernatural twining elegantly through the story.
I have to admit that I felt the first half of the book was a little slow initially, but it was worth perseverance – the pace is tightly drawn and builds tension, so that the concluding part of the novel is powerful and kept me turning pages quicker and quicker to find the final outcome. It’s an impressive debut novel; McDermott has a dark and powerful future on the nation’s bookstore shelves!
This review was first published at ASiF! on August 31, 2010.