What a scamp young Steve is! When you are a Pomp (necromancer), life (and death) is a matter to be taken seriously. But not our mischievous hero—he will happily fall in love with the beautiful, but dead, while running from gunshots and the bureaucratically anal bosses that are determined to make his life hell. With his family and friends dying all around him, it falls to Steve to take a stand and stop the rot.
What a scamp that Trent Jamieson is! To have created such an engaging supernatural thriller that is as perky and sultry as Brisbane. What a coup to have such a groovy series set in a city whose next claim to SF fame is that it hosted Australia's first science fiction novel, written by Thomas Lucas in 1894. It is always great to see a city other than the usual literary cities used, and Jamieson uses all of Brisbane's quirks to their best effect. While this is a triumph of a novel for first time novelist, Jamieson, it is also a triumph for Brisbane.
And the good thing is that the second instalment is coming out in December this year. That's nice to know…because everyone knows that living in Brisbane can be hell.
This trilogy paints an evocative picture of post-apocalyptic Australia, a thousand years from now. Two populations are clinging to survival. The first group—the Darklanders—live by hunting and foraging in contaminated land enclosed by a huge black wall, and are guided by gifted Dreamers who can communicate by ‘reaching’ magically to the Earth Mother. The second group of survivors, the Skypeople or Nightpeople, live in an artificial, cocooned technological environment; upper classes live in luxury while an underclass serves them and lives in squalor.
It has become clear that neither society is ultimately viable, and it will take co-operation between the groups for humanity to survive. The Darklands people have mutated and adapted, but live very primitively, and have only a tiny population with a limited gene pool, whereas the Skypeople have extremely sophisticated technology and medical knowledge, but have not evolved at all. Their artificial society has become unstable both because of entropy to the aging fabric of the physical environment, and social entropy tearing their unstable society apart. They seek to understand the genetic makeup of the Darklands people, to enhance the genetic pool available and perhaps isolate the genes that make people ‘viable’ out of doors in the fierce, contaminated climate.
The first volume introduces us to Saria, who may be the last viable baby born to the Darklanders. The second centres on Lari, a disaffected son of the upper class in the tech city. Thus the author gives us an intimate picture of the deserts and forests of the primitive tribe, and by contrast, the doomed technology-dependent city society.
Saria and Lari team up, and with others from both environments form the Clan who are the focal group in Volume Three, Daywards. Children from the next generation—Dara and her twin brother Jaran, with their cousin Eyna—are now the chief protagonists. There is an ongoing social and political struggle in the Clan—is it betrayal to co-operate with the remnants of the tech civilisation, or is it expediency for the survival of them all? I found this third volume the least convincing, as Clan members variously tricked each other, betrayed their group, sulked, and resorted to Earth Magic inconsistently, while the aged Saria of Volume One wisely oversaw their doings. To say any more would be to spoil the story for readers. In spite of my misgivings about the ultimate resolution of it all, I found this trilogy to be an engrossing and wonderfully imagined exploration of a highly credible Australian future.
Tracato is another strong volume in Joel Shepherd’s Trial of Blood and Steel series. After the events of Petrodor, Sasha and her companions Kessleigh and Errolyn flee to Tracato, a major city in the serrin-held territories of the Bacosh. Tracacto is a hot-bed of intrigue, divided as it is by tensions between the serrin, the city’s elected Council and its supporters, and the long-displaced feudalists, all wound tighter by the impending invasion of their lands by the Verenthane faithful, amongst whom are members of Sasha’s family.
Tracato starts out slowly, mired down with setup, backstory and world-building concerns. It’s definitely worth persisting past the half-way mark though, where it really takes off (this has been a pattern throughout the series, by the way). Dominated by the themes of clashing religious, philosophical, and political views, Tracato is really strongest in its exploration of the inter-personal and familial conflicts. And Sasha is particularly strong because she has grown so much and become a greater, and far more sympathetic, heroine for it. Shepherd’s battle scenes in Tracato are of particular note as well. I look forward to the fourth and final volume, coming soon.