‘Fantastic’ Australian YA for Christmas

Red QueenThree new Australian YA novels, The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Penguin), Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti (Allen & Unwin) and Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (A&U) will make appealing Christmas presents. These all have ‘fantastic’ elements.

What a thrill to meet Isobelle Carmody again recently when she spoke about the final book in her incredible ‘Obernewtyn’ fantasy series, The Red Queen.

 

Isobelle’s readers are probably the most dedicated fans of an Australian YA author I’ve come across. People engage completely with her Obernwtyn heroine, Elspeth Gordie, and share their personal stories about growing up with Elspeth. As many know, Isobelle started writing the first book, Obernewtyn, when she was fourteen years old and it was published in 1987 so the series of seven books has been a long time in the making. Isobelle’s readers are relieved that, even though Elspeth Gordie’s story is now complete, Isobelle has planned other ways back into the high fantasy world of Obernewtyn.

ObernewtynI decided to buy the first book Obernewtyn rather than The Red Queen because, even though I read it when it was published, I didn’t have a copy and thought I might savour the series again from the beginning. Of course, buy The Red Queen for Christmas if that’s where you (or someone you’re choosing gifts for) are up to, otherwise work through the series. Or delve into Isobelle’s other books. My favourites are The GatheringLittle Fur (for young readers),  Metro Winds (stories for mature readers which I reviewed here) and Alyzon Whitestarr (which is inexplicably out of print).

When I moderated a session with Isobelle at the Sydney Writers’ Festival about Fantasy Worlds a few years ago, the talented Scott Westerfeld was also on the panel. My particular favourites of Scott’s books are So Yesterday and the ‘Uglies’ series (which is also available in graphic novel form).

Zeroes

He has now co-written Zeroes with the legendary Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotta. It’s an explosive whopper of a book about young people who each have a superpower. But they are ‘zeroes’ (all born in the year 2000), not ‘heroes’. It’s a perfect holiday read (and has been roaring up the NY Times YA best-sellers’ list). Which character will be your favourite – blind Flicker who can ‘see’ through the eyes of others, Chizara who can crash computer systems, Kelsie or Nate who can influence crowds, or handsome Anonymous who blends into backgrounds and is easily forgotten; but it probably won’t be Ethan with his knowing ‘extra’ voice. It’s not clear which author has written which parts but this may be revealed further into the series.

Newt's emeraldGirls aged 11 (good readers) and older will be hooked by Garth Nix’s Newt’s Emerald about eighteen-year-old Lady Truthful. I can’t do better than use the book’s blurb to describe it: ‘A regency romance with a magical twist’. It is a change of direction for Garth Nix, who is renowned for The Old Kingdom Chronicles and Keys to the Kingdom  series. Newt’s Emerald is a mystery-adventure as well as a romance, as Truthful seeks the emerald that has been stolen from her family. It’s another perfect Christmas read.

Dystopian Fiction – My One Big Weakness (This Week, Anyway)

What is it about dystopian fiction that really pulls at our heartstrings?

I refused to see the movie The Road, based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, because I found the book so desolate. I am the first to start bawling in theatres, so I figure that if it’s really that great, then I’ll wait until I can watch it on DVD in the comfort and non-judgment of my own loungeroom and cry my little heart out. Funnily enough, I had no problem watching another McCarthy book-to-movie adaptation, No Country For Old Men, which is arguably equally as desolate. But then, it’s that ‘dystopian’ thing, isn’t it?

Deriving from  an ancient Greek language construction of ‘bad’ and ‘place’, the idea of the ‘dystopia’ has long been fascinating school of thought for skylarking philosophers. Dystopian fiction then, does have a cautionary edge to it for us plebean readers. Like a school teacher that just won’t quit, a dystopian tale often takes place in a futuristic universe, or an alternative history that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy, and tells us that if we do or don’t do something, then THIS will happen. And it’s generally bad. Besides a foreshadowing of what things may come if we take a certain route, the marks of the dystopian societies are often just skewed reflections of who we are today, right now.

People in modern day society have often made the connection to dystopian novels: the surveillance of Big Brother from Nineteen Eighty-Four through ‘Reality’ TV; the test tube designer babies just as prophesied in Brave New World. To the uninformed Westerner, the society in which Offred lives in The Handmaid’s Tale is Afghanistan; and uninformed foreigner or not, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, where people are transformed under surgery to become perfection, is pretty much Los Angeles, USA under a different name.

It always comes back to one thing: not the struggle for humanity per se, but the question of what exactly humanity is. This post may seem a little depressing but the latest dystopian novel I’ve been reading has affected me greatly and caused me to think about this subject a lot. I finished it a few weeks ago but I still I have a lot of questions, some answers, and some more questions to those answers.

Stay tuned for my review on Kazuo Ishiguro’s heartwrenching dystopian Sci Fi, Never Let Me Go, tomorrow.

Sam Downing Reviews: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I picked up a copy of Leviathan when I was in the States last week; I started reading it on Sunday night and had polished it off by Wednesday morning, however, in that time I crossed the international date line so it actually took me even less time to finish than that. The reason I got through it so fast? It’s ace.

The only other book I’ve read by Scott Westerfeld is Uglies, and I liked Leviathan a lot more. It’s loaded with all kinds of rad things: steampunk! Huge mechanical warships and equally huge genetically engineered warships! World War I alternate history! Girls disguised as boys! Heirs to the throne on the run from malevolent political forces!

So. Much. Awesome.

But if you’re awesome-greedy and demand yet more awesome, here it is: Keith Thompson’s illustrations are gawjus. The endpapers of the book alone are worth the cover price – they make me go all Homer Simpson drooly.

The only bad thing about Leviathan is that it’s the first part of a trilogy. This means that a lot of the plot is left hanging for the second instalment, which is released in 2010… but I want to find out what happens nooooow. I’m nerdishly excited about this series and where it’s headed! Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and stamp my feet for a bit in the hope that it’ll somehow make time go by faster.

This month’s guest reviewer, Sam Downing, is a twenty-something blogger, young-adult writer and hack journalist from Sydney. Follow him on Twitter and visit his blog here.