Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 27 June 2019.
Make sure to check out my extended review for The Emerald Tablet.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 27 June 2019.
Make sure to check out my extended review for The Emerald Tablet.
Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.
For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I am going to look at an upcoming piece of Australian fiction that I think is going to be a thrilling, realistic and deeply intriguing read, Duplicity by Richard Evans.
Duplicity is the second book in Evans’s Democracy trilogy and follows on from his 2018 release, Deceit, which presented the reader with a tale of corruption and political intrigue inside the halls of Australia’s Parliament House. Evans himself is former Australian politician whose detailed knowledge of parliamentary procedure and the day-to-day aspects of Australian politics turned this book into an exceedingly realistic read (depressingly so, in some cases). It was so accurate and clever it earned a five-star review from me last year and received an honourable mention in my Top Ten Reads of 2018 list. As a result, I am quite keen to check out Duplicity, especially as it is set to focus on a very topical part of Australia’s political system: the election.
Simon & Schuster Synopsis:
When ruthless political operative Jonathan Wolff is assigned the task of overthrowing corrupt Australian Prime Minister Andrew Gerrard in the federal election campaign, no one is safe from the line of fire.
Wolff’s tactful manipulation and political prowess guide the opposition towards election success, but fearing they will not win, Hawk must initiate his own explosive campaign to defeat the Prime Minister and remain loyal to the Mercantiles – a long-established group of high-taxpaying business owners out to manipulate the halls of Parliament House.
With investigative journalist Anita Devlin hot on his trail, Wolff oversees a storm of violent demonstrations in a strategic ploy to advance the cause of independent candidate Jaya Rukhmani.
Devlin is determined to be the whistle-blower, but does she have what it takes to expose Wolff and the Mercantiles? Or will political power overcome truth in this gripping Australian political thriller?
This sounds like it could be quite the interesting story, and it is definitely a change from the plot of the first book in the series. In Deceit, the story focused on the corrupt Prime Minister attempting to manipulate the parliament and the people to commit an illegal act. In this one, it’s two corrupt politicians attempting to manipulate the system for their own ends, and I expect the machinations and power plays to double in volume as a result.
The timing of this book is quite impeccable. Australia has only just finished up a federal election period that was filled with controversy, surprises and, at times, blatant stupidity. With that fresh in our minds, this book is going to take on a lot of extra potency and meaning, although I imagine quite a few people will be frustrated by any similarities it will share with real life events.
Duplicity is set to be released in September, and I am quite looking forward to seeing how Evans spins this election in his book. I am expecting another fantastic and thrilling read and I am very curious to see what additional aspects of Australian politics the author brings to life this time.
Publishers: Pan Macmillan Australia and Bolinda Audio
1. Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993)
2. The Dead of the Night (1994)
3. The Third Day, the Frost (1995)
4. Darkness, Be My Friend (1996)
5. Burning for Revenge (1997)
6. The Night is for Hunting (1998)
7. The Other Side of Dawn (1999)
Series Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
For this week’s Throwback Thursday review, I dive back into one of the most popular and iconic Australian fiction series of all times, John Marsden’s epic Tomorrow series.
The Tomorrow series, by bestselling and award-winning Australian author John Marsden, is a powerful and thought-provoking young adult series that was released in the 1990s. Made up of seven books, the series began in 1993 with Tomorrow, When the War Began and ended in 1999 with The Other Side of Dawn. The Tomorrow series follows a small group of young teenage protagonists as they deal with a foreign invasion of Australia which forces them to hide in the bush and engage in a guerrilla war to win. Thanks to its strong characters, frank depictions of war and trauma and its excellent utilisation of Australia’s bush and rural landscape, the Tomorrow series has become one of the most highly regarded and popular Australian series of all times, with millions of copies sold in Australia alone (which, considering our relatively small population, is pretty impressive). It is also considered a must-read series for young Australian readers, and it is still required reading in many schools to this day.
I have been a major fan of this series for a very long time. I remember reading these books while I was at school, both for classes and for my own enjoyment, and I was enthralled by its depictions of war and its captivating story, which stoked my imagination for years. Re-reading it at an older age, I began to appreciate the more complex nature of its story and the characters portrayed within. I have re-read or re-listened to these books many times over the years, and it still remains one of my most favourite series of all times. I have actually been planning to review this as part of my Throwback Thursday series for some time, and after recently mentioning it in my First Ten Books I Reviewed list, where it placed No. 1 thanks to a review project at school, I have decided it was time to share why I love this series and why those who readers unfamiliar with it should check it out.
The Tomorrow series is set in the 1990s, around the same time as the books were written, in a fictional area of Australia. The plot revolves around seven teenagers, Ellie, Corrie, Homer, Fiona, Lee, Robyn and Kevin, who live in and around the rural town of Wirrawee. During the holiday period they decide to head out to a remote and mostly unexplored area of the bush, known as Hell, for a week of camping. Isolated from the rest of the world, they are mostly unaware of events transpiring beyond their bush hideaway. Once they finish their trip, they emerge from Hell to find their farms and houses abandoned and their town occupied by soldiers. It soon becomes apparent that all of Australia has been invaded by a foreign nation, with Wirrawee being one of the initial points of occupation due to its proximity to a harbour that is vital to the invader’s supply network. Using Hell as a base, the protagonists have to come to terms with the new reality they find themselves in, and they must band together to not only survive, but to try and find some way to oppose the invading army.
The first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, sets up the story and introduces the readers to the main characters. The book starts with the seven main characters heading off into the bush, and then returning to find that their world has changed. Not knowing what had happened and only initially finding that their families are missing, they venture into Wirrawee and encounter their first batch of enemy troops. After some initial conflicts, which include Lee getting shot, Ellie blowing up an enemy patrol and Corrie’s house getting destroyed by a missile, the group retreats back to Hell with newcomer Chris, who had also managed to hide from the invaders. Once back in the bush, they initially work on gathering information about the enemy forces and on turning Hell into a long-term home for themselves. However, as it becomes obvious that the war is going poorly for Australia and the invading army is here to stay, they decide to attempt a major act of sabotage. Their plan works, but tragedy forces two members of the group to surrender themselves to enemy custody while the rest of the group remain hidden in Hell. Tomorrow, When the War Began is an excellent novel that does a great job introducing the reader to the characters and setting up an amazing story. While Tomorrow, When the War Began would have been a great standalone novel, it also does an outstanding job setting up the rest of the series. There are so many good parts to this novel, but I have to say that the early scenes in which the protagonists start putting the clues together and slowly begin to work out that their town and country have been invaded are among some of the best in the entire series, especially with the tension and uncertainty that the characters are experiencing.
The second book in the series, The Dead of the Night, starts only a few weeks after the events of the first book. Still reeling from the loss of two of their friends, the remaining members of the group engage in more attacks or acts of sabotage, before finding a group of adult rebels who have managed to avoid capture. However, the teenage protagonists quickly realise that the adult rebels have no idea what they are doing, and disaster strikes when they encounter the enemy. The protagonists manage to escape back to Hell, where they successfully undertake another massive attack, although another unforeseen tragedy is revealed in the aftermath. This is a great follow-up to Tomorrow, When the War Began and it continues several interesting story threads from the first book, while also setting up some new characters and situations. The scenes with the teenage protagonists encountering the adult rebels are not my favourite, but the counterpoints between the two groups are extremely fascinating. In addition, the various covert actions that the group undertakes in this book, as well as the characters starting to show evidence of war trauma, offers some well-written and powerful moments to the series.
The next book, The Third Day, the Frost (released as A Killing Frost in the US and Canada), takes the protagonists out of their comfort zone as they leave Hell and the Wirrawee area in order to launch a seemingly impossible attack on the enemy’s nearby harbour complex. Their hopes are buoyed when they manage to reconnect with a lost friend whose newfound knowledge may prove to be the key to pulling off their attack. However, their success is short lived as they fall into the clutches of the enemy army and are soon sentenced to death. They eventually manage to escape, but their freedom comes at a great cost. This is easily one of the darker books in the Tomorrow series, especially the parts where the remaining main characters are caught and held in prison. Some of the sequences in the book are pretty cool, especially the assault on Cobbler’s Bay, and this book is one of the ones I enjoy the most in the entire series.
Following the events of The Third Day, the Frost, the series experiences a seven-month time-skip as the remaining main characters recover in New Zealand. As a result, the fourth book, Darkness, Be My Friend, feels a lot like it is the beginning of a slightly different second half of this series, resulting in some significant changes and character developments. This book starts with the protagonists being asked to return to Australia in order to escort a band of army commandoes to a high-value target in the Wirrawee area. While initially reluctant to return, the protagonists eventually agree to head back for a short mission. However, when the commandoes go missing, the protagonists find themselves once again trapped in occupied territory and are forced to use their wits and experience to survive and fight back. Darkness, Be My Friend is a really interesting and significant instalment in the series. Not only are there a number of major changes in Wirrawee, including several shocking deaths, but this is the book where the trauma and PTSD angles of Marsden’s storytelling really come into effect, as all of the main characters are completely shell-shocked after the events of the first three books, and it takes them a lot to get back to their former operational readiness. This book does feature some great scenes, including a night-time escape on horseback and a failed attack on the enemy which necessitates another desperate escape.
The fifth book in the series, Burning for Revenge, sees the protagonists once again holed up in Hell, hiding from the enemy army. With no chance of extraction back to New Zealand, the young guerrillas decided to leave their sanctuary and find a new target to attack. Fate intervenes, and they find themselves in a position to do a lot of damage to the enemy. I really enjoyed Burning for Revenge, even though it suffers from some pacing issues. The major offence takes place in the middle of the book, and while the corresponding sequences are epic in their scale, destruction and savagery, the second half of the book, in which the characters hide out in a nearby city, really peters out in comparison. The parts of the book set in the city do offer an interesting change of location, and also feature some compelling story points, but it does seem to be a bit lacking after the big attack. But the major action sequence, the lengthy escape and the significant story developments that occur more than make up for it.
The next book, The Night is for Hunting, is set right after the events of Burning for Revenge and sees the protagonists still hiding out in the suburbs of Stratton. Their new way of life is shattered when they witness troops capturing some of the wild street children who also haunt the ruins of Stratton. Rescuing the small group from the enemy, the protagonists escape back to Hell, and must find a way to adapt to their new charges. However, Hell may not be the safe haven they remember; violence visits them in the bush for the first time. The Night is for Hunting is probably my least favourite book in the Tomorrow series, although it still is an extremely enjoyable book and an essential part of the series. It is a little hard to deal with this book’s change of focus from war to childcare, but the focus on the new war orphans who require care allows for some interesting scenes and some intriguing character development. Most of the child characters are pretty annoying, but their leader, Gavin, more than makes up for it, as the deaf badass has some amazing scenes through this book. The final action sequences above Hell are also quite jarring, as the bush location that has been built up as a safe haven for your favourite characters is invaded.
The seventh and final book in the Tomorrow series, The Other Side of Dawn, begins immediately after the conclusion of the sixth book. After taking out the enemy patrol that infiltrated Hell, the protagonists need to escape before the soldiers are reported missing. However, instead of an extraction back to New Zealand, they are given a new mission: to venture out and perform as many attacks as possible. The war is in its final days and any damage they can do will help determine the future of Australia. Setting off again, the protagonists prepare for their final battle. Who will survive and what will the country look like after they are done? This is a really good conclusion to the series that features a number of great scenes. Not only are many of the story threads that ran through the entire series wrapped up but the protagonists find themselves drawn further into the wider war than they ever have been before. Marsden tries some different stuff in this book, including a significant amount of the book focusing on an isolated Ellie, and it works to create not only an enjoyable novel but also an excellent end to this great series.
While all seven books in the series are deeply entertaining and extremely well written, their real strength lies in their continuation as a series. Marsden does an outstanding job linking all of the books in the series together, creating one lengthy and captivating story that you cannot wait to get to the end of. The sheer amount of character development that occurs throughout the series, as well as the various attacks and input in the war effort, is amazing, and the Tomorrow series really needs to be read in its entirety and in order.
The Tomorrow series is told from the first-person perspective of the main character, Ellie, who is chronicling the adventures of the protagonists so there is a record of what they did during the war in case they are captured or killed. I always quite enjoyed having the story told in this manner, as it gave the series a lot of realism and is supposed to evoke other famous wartime chronicles. Ellie is a unique narrator, as she really does not tell a straight story of the entire adventure. While she endeavours to cover all the events that are occurring, she goes off on a huge number of tangents, recalling stories from her past, analysing the thoughts and feelings in her head, or engaging in some deep emotional debate about the situations the characters find themselves in. While this may seem random, it goes a long way to explaining the narrator’s thought process, as it helps her break down events she cannot quite handle and interpret them as something more recognisable to her. It is also through her eyes that we see the other characters, and as such we get a really good idea of their past and their potential motivations, as Ellie knows huge amounts about their past and tells a number of funny stories or analogies that help highlight their character traits and personalities. Because all of the main characters are her friends, Ellie’s feelings of closeness and love for these characters really shines through and ensures that the readers really care for all the other characters. One of the things I quite liked about the chronicle format of this series was that Marsden went out of his way to explain the text’s creation and how the protagonist was able to preserve them through the war. The chronicles also have an impact on the story, especially in the second book, as the characters read and react to Ellie’s inner thoughts and observations about the series’ opening events.
I absolutely love the overarching story concept of this series, which sees Australia being invaded by a hostile enemy force who quickly takes over the country, forcing a small group of young people to fight back. While some comparisons with Red Dawn can be made, there are some significant differences to the story, such as its focus on Australia, character development and the more realistic story of young people surviving in a war zone. I always felt that the idea that Australia, with its relatively small population and relative isolation from Europe and America, could be invaded and completely conquered in such a short period is a lot more realistic than similar events occurring in America. In addition, the way that the teenage protagonists operate is a lot more realistic in the Tomorrow series. The characters spend most of their time mainly trying to survive and avoid capture or death at the hands of their enemy. Even when they attempt an attack, they plans usually attempt to avoid a direct fire fight, as they realise that any attempts to do so would likely see them killed. Instead, they mostly travel without guns, hoping that if captured, the enemy would believe they were kids who were hiding and not actual guerrillas. I also liked how the protagonists’ planned assaults on the enemy are more opportunistic in nature and rely more on improvisation and everyday items rather than training or proper military explosives or weapons. Most of their attacks involve petrol, gas and weapons farmers would use (although one attack was achieved by toasters), and even when they receive some better equipment from the New Zealand army, they utilise it in a way adult soldiers would not think about. The author’s depiction of Australia’s invasion is really interesting, and the attack and the international reaction to it feel quite realistic, even in more modern times. I really love the ideas that Marsden comes up with when it comes to the actions his protagonists undertake to survive the war, and it is clear that he dedicated a lot of time and attention to coming up with these actions. As a result of this, and the realistic depiction of Australia being invaded, the Tomorrow series has always fired my imagination about what I would do if Australia were invaded, and I have to admit I would be tempted to do what these protagonists would do and try and hide out in the bush.
The way that the war is depicted in this series is quite intriguing. Due to the story being told from Ellie’s perspective as a chronicler, the reader only gets a fairly narrow view of the war, as the protagonists lack any knowledge of what is happening due to their isolation. Having the protagonists only finding out about the invasion days after it occurs, and then retreating to their hidden base for long periods of a time is quite a cool concept, and I always found that it added so much to the story, especially realism; you cannot expect teen civilians in the bush to have knowledge of troop movements. Another clever plot device that the Tomorrow series makes use of is the fact that the series has no singular antagonist; instead, the protagonists see every member of the invading army as an equal threat. While the character of Major Harvey in the second and third book is an antagonist, he is really just a cog in the military machine that is conquering Australia. Much more negative focus is put on the enemy army as a whole, even though they are fairly faceless, with only one member of their forces ever really named, and that was in the last book. I always felt that Marsden considered war and the reasons for it as the book’s primary villain, as the harsh depictions of it and its aftermath are very convincing.
As you would expect from a series that focuses on invasion, war and guerrilla attacks, there is a heck of a lot of action going on within these books. Marsden has some real skill when it comes to writing these scenes, and the reader is dragged right into the middle of the carnage as the narrator describes everything that they see. I was also impressed with how realistic these scenes were, and the author does not pull any punches when it comes to describing the carnage, with some truly gruesome or violent events occurring all over the place. There are a huge number of scenes that come to mind in the series, but the one that I would say is the most descriptive is the airfield sequence in Burning for Revenge. The devastation, destruction and fire that occur in the scene is just insane, and you can’t help but feel the heat of the flames and explosions that are occurring all around the narrator. This intense action adds so much to the story and really highlights the author’s skill as a writer.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the Tomorrow series is Marsden’s extremely realistic and insightful depictions of emotional and psychological trauma as a result of war and death. The inclusion of this sort of trauma is prevalent throughout the entire series and affects all of the characters in some way or another. Marsden started featuring these depictions of trauma quite early in the series, as within the first book alone two of the characters suffer from panic attacks after seeing or being forced to commit severe acts of violence. This trauma continues to define many of the characters throughout the rest of the books, and large parts of the series deal with them trying to come to terms with the various traumatic experiences, the deaths of loved ones and all the horrendous acts of violence they have committed. The most obvious example of these occurs in the fourth book, Darkness, Be my Friend, where at the start all the surviving characters are deeply shell-shocked and emotionally distraught after everything they have done, as well as only narrowly escaping from the death sentence at the enemy prison and witnessing another one of their friends dying. Even after months recovering in New Zealand, none of them have come close to coming to terms with what happened to them, and the stream of emotion that followed the discussions about heading back to Australia really cuts to the reader’s core. This is especially true when at least two characters have mental breakdowns when back in Australia, especially Kevin, whose mind essentially shuts down for most of the fifth book in response to everything that happens. Some of Ellie’s descriptions of the depression or despair she experiences throughout the course of the series are just heartbreaking, but they really drive home how the war has affected her and how devastating the events of the book are.
The Tomorrow series features a fantastic core group of characters who are thrust unprepared into a war setting. The characters are a diverse and interesting bunch. Due to his background as a teacher in a rural area of Australia, Marsden has a good idea of the lifestyle of rural kids, and he incorporates this into his characters. After the various adventures with these characters, the reader does really start to care for them, and they really feel the dark points strongly, such as when they are imprisoned. I liked the way that Marsden portrayed their relationship, as the characters become dependent on each other in their isolation and situation. Each of the main characters goes through some significant character development throughout the books, as the situations they face force them to become more responsible or more vicious, depending on their circumstances. None of the characters are unaffected by this, whether it is the initially rebellious Homer turning into a compassionate leader, or the initially pampered Fiona becoming a more independent and resilient person. Perhaps the best example of character changes is Lee. In the first book he is a more easy-going character whose main story arc involves his romance with Ellie. However, when he witnesses the brutality of the enemy in the second book, he starts to show more signs of violence and anger, killing several soldiers in brutal fashion. When he finds out that his parents have died, he becomes eager for vengeance, acting out more against the group and putting them in danger with his decisions.
As the narrator, we spend the most time with Ellie, and as a result we really get a deep dive into her character, personality and motivations. Throughout the series, so many things happen to Ellie that fundamentally change her as a person. One of the things I really liked about this series as a whole is the way that Ellie maintains her quirky outlook on life even when terrible things happen to her or when she is forced to do terrible things to survive. Ellie is the first one of the characters to kill someone, and the many deaths she witnesses or is forced to participate in haunt her for all of the books. With her strong and overwhelming personality, I always thought that Ellie was an outstanding main character for this series, and she is a fantastic creation of Marsden.
Much of the Tomorrow series is set in the Australian bushland. Marsden is a very descriptive author, and throughout the course of his books, he really brings the bush to life with his fantastic writings. The reader really gets a sense of the beauty and strangeness of the bush, and the narrator, who has spent her entire life near the bush, gives several poetic and inspiring accounts of why she loves the bush so much. There are a number of great bush locations featured throughout the series, and this landscape takes on a life of its own at times. I loved the location and thought that it contrasted well with some other locations, such as the city the characters spend time in during the last three books. The immortal bush remains undamaged through the entire series, while the city becomes more and more devastated every time the characters visit. I loved the use of the bush, and it is an outstanding location that adds so much to the series.
These books are an excellent young adult series that are a must read for its intended audience. Some of the violence and other content may be considered a bit much for some younger audiences, although I did read this when I was quite young and I personally think that the underlying lessons and themes well outweigh the risks. Marsden, as a teacher who worked with teenagers, really wanted to portray a group of teenage protagonists in a positive light by showing them as capable beings rather than as the lazy troublemakers of popular media. Without a doubt, Marsden was able to achieve this, showing a group of teenagers who able to adapt and survive in the most hostile of locations, becoming heroes and survivors where their contemporaries were mostly captured in the early days of the invasion. Even those adults they encounter after the invasion are mostly incompetent, especially the group known as Harvey’s Heroes in The Dead of the Night. These characters, including some of their antagonists, actually try to treat them like children, which is galling when the protagonists are far more capable. However, the protagonists are able to survive where the adults do not, and even some of the professional soldiers they work with in the later books are unable to do the things they do. As a result, this book does a great job of showing what teenagers are capable of when they face adversity. However, while it does show them stepping up, the books do not glorify war for young people, as all their actions are done out of necessity, and they are left with some terrible mental and physical scars. I would strongly recommend this series for all young readers, and I believe that older readers will become enthralled in the story contained within.
As the Tomorrow series is one of the most popular and well-known book series in Australia for the last 20 years, there have been a couple of attempts at adapting the books to the screen. While this is not necessarily important to enjoying the story, it is intriguing to see how these adaptations have gone, especially as I do not think either of them gets the story 100% correct. The first adaption the Tomorrow series had was the 2010 film, Tomorrow, When the War Began, which stared a young, mostly Australian cast, a couple of whom have gone on to some international success. I quite liked the film, which I felt mostly captured the heart and intent of the first book. However, there were some scenes that were way over the top or slightly stupid, such as having the religious Robyn killing a whole bunch of soldiers while the camera pans sadly to a playground to represent innocence lost, or the final scene showing the protagonists outfitted like a major paramilitary group. The film also did a really good job of moving the story out of the 90s and setting it in 2010 by cleverly inserting recent technology into the story. For example, there is one memorable scene where all the characters simultaneously check their cell phone reception when they first discover Ellie’s farm abandoned, rather than having one person checking the landline. The second adaptation was a television show that ran for one season in 2016. While it roughly covered the events of the first book, they really took a lot of artistic licence, which honestly did not pay off. For example, they spent a huge amount of time focussing on what was happening with the captured parents, even though the parents where pretty much non-entities in the first book. Stuff like this really added nothing to the story, and I personally thought it was quite stupid and kind of ruined the show for me.
Marsden actually continued the story of the Tomorrow series in a sequel trilogy known as The Ellie Chronicles. The Ellie Chronicles ran between 2003 and 2006 and focused on Ellie as she struggles to adapt to life in post-war Australia. I have actually not had the chance to read or listen to The Ellie Chronicles before, which is weird considering how much I love the Tomorrow series. I have a copy of these books and I will try to get through them at some point in the future as I am deeply curious to see what happens to these beloved characters in peace time (Is the leader of the Australian terrorist group mentioned in the synopsis Lee? He was still pretty murderous at the end of the series).
While I originally read the physical copies of these books, I mostly choose to listen to the stories on audiobook. The audiobooks are all narrated by Suzi Dougherty, and mostly run for around seven hours, with the final book, The Other Side of Dawn, running for over nine hours. When I do my re-listen of these books, I try to get through the entire series in one go and I am generally able to do so quite quickly, as the compelling story keeps me enraptured for all seven books. Doherty does an amazing job when it comes to these books and she comes up with some outstanding voices for all the characters she portrays. I especially feel she gets the character of Ellie down perfectly, which has a real trickle-down effect to the rest of the book, as Ellie is the character narrating the entire series. I really enjoy listening to the series and I think I become a lot more attached to the series when I do. I would strongly recommend listening to the Tomorrow series on audiobook; it is an amazing way to enjoy these fantastic books.
As you can see from my rather long review, there is so much about the Tomorrow series that I enjoy. To my mind it is one of the best book series I have ever read, and even after the many years since I first read it, I am still enthralled by the epic story it contains. Each of the books within the Tomorrow series is excellent, but when taken as a whole, the series becomes some sensational. I highly recommend this entire series and I am so glad that many Australian schools still require their students to read it.
Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback format – 18 March 2019)
Length: 416 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Historical drama author Mary-Anne O’Connor once again presents the readers with a powerful and moving journey through a number of iconic moments in Australian history with her fourth book, In a Great Southern Land, which focuses on Australia’s colonial history and the chaos surrounding the infamous Eureka Stockade.
In 1851, the colonised but still mythical continent of Australia represents many things for many different people. For the Clancy family living in Ireland it represents freedom, as they seek their own land away from the British aristocracy that controls their country. For young Eve Richards it represents a harsh prison; she is unfairly transported as a convict after losing everything that she cares about.
Once in New South Wales, Eve briefly encounters the wild but kind Clancy brother, Kieran, who manages to save her from a harsh life in the Tasmanian colonies. Following a bad experience as he left Ireland, Kieran is wondering around Australia in search of a new purpose, while his family, including his brother, Liam, and his sister, Eileen, settle in Orange. Despite the love of his family, Kieran’s temper and thirst for adventure leads him down to the goldfields at Ballarat, close to where Eve is employed as a convict servant.
It does not take long for Kieran and Eve to find each other again, and the two are soon drawn together romantically. However, their plans for their future and a life together are imperilled by events occurring around the goldfields. The corrupt colonial regime is imposing harsh taxes on the miners attempting to scratch a living at the fields, and resentment and hostility is growing. When several shocking events become a catalyst for revolt among the miners, Kieran finds himself being forced to choose between supporting his friends or marrying Eve. Can Kieran and Eve’s relationship survive the chaos of the Eureka Stockade, or will tragedy once again strike them both?
This is the fourth book from Australian author Mary-Anne O’Connor, who specialises in historical dramas set in the backdrop of significant events in Australia’s history. Her 2015 debut, Gallipoli Street, features aspects of World Wars I and II as well as the Great Depression. Her second book, Worth Fighting For, is set in World War II, while her third book, War Flower, focuses on Australia in the 1960s, including the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In a Great Southern Land is the author’s first foray into a 19th century setting, and her love and dedication to recounting parts of Australia’s complex and chaotic history once again shines through.
At its heart, In a Great Southern Land is a dramatic story of several individuals who are searching for a new beginning, and find love, loss and upheaval in their new home. I have to admit that dramatic novels are not usually the sort of book that I am naturally drawn to, but something about this book really appealed to me and I had a great time reading it. The main characters are extremely sympathetic and realistic, and the reader can not help but get drawn into their story. A lot of bad stuff affects all of them, especially Kieran and Eve, and you are left hoping that they can hang on and find the happiness that they deserve. I quite enjoyed the romance angle between Kieran and Eve; it came about quite naturally and had quite a satisfying conclusion. I really got into this fantastic story and I was impressed by how this fantastic dramatic tale was woven so effectively into the book’s amazing historical elements.
One of the things I quite liked about this book was O’Connor’s ability to examine and bring several aspects of Australia’s colonial history to life. Several iconic parts of the mid-19th century Australian experience are explored by the author, including the transportation of convicted criminals from England to Australia, the often terrible convict lifestyle, the resettlement of Irish settlers to various parts of Australia and the trials and tribulations of those seeking their fortunes in the goldfields. On top of that, O’Connor also explores various Australian locations, including historical Sydney, Melbourne, Orange and Ballarat. All of these examinations of history are deeply fascinating, and I really enjoyed reading about them. The author has obvious skill at portraying all the historical aspects, and the reader gets a real sense of what it would have been like to experience these historical events, ordeals and locations.
The most significant historical event that occurs within this book is the Eureka Stockade, which plays a huge role in the overall story. O’Connor does an amazing job examining this interesting and often venerated piece of Australia’s colonial history and explores so many of the key elements surrounding the event. As such, the reader gets an excellent idea of what events led up to the Eureka Stockade, and why the participants thought it was necessary to organise as they did. The actual battle at the Eureka Stockade is pretty brutal and tragic for the reader and becomes one of the major parts within the book. I quite liked the examination of the aftermath of the event, especially the rather entertaining, but apparently accurate, courtroom sequence, which I was not as familiar with. O’Connor does a fantastic job brining the Eureka Stockade to life, and I was quite impressed with how it was utilised in the telling of the book’s dramatic storylines.
I really enjoyed the author’s underlying examination of freedom and control that seemed to permeate a large amount of In a Great Southern Land’s plot. Throughout the story, the main characters experience high amounts of oppression or prejudice, often from upper-class English characters, due to a wide range of social factors. For example, before the Clancy family leave for Australia, they are oppressed by the rich, English family who controls their land and whose greed takes something precious from Kieran. Eve is taken advantage of by the son of the household she works for and is then cast out when the affair is discovered without the son standing up for her. Even when they reach the promised land of Australia, the characters are still oppressed. The Clancy family still face discrimination for being Irish, with the police targeting Kieran, and one particularly dislikeable doctor refusing to leave a party to treat someone from Ireland. Eve, on the other hand, is treated poorly as a convict, and even after she finds work with a nice, wealthy family, she and Kieran are forced to act a certain way with Eve’s employers in order to gain permission to marry. This underlying oppression and the resentment and anger that these characters felt plays wonderfully into the events that led up to the Eureka Stockade, and it was intriguing to see how these events affected the characters’ decisions in relation to these events.
In this book, Mary-Anne O’Connor has produced another outstanding historical drama that the reader really gets drawn into. The main story is deep and emotive and ties in well with O’Connor’s rich and detailed depictions of historical events that represent key points in Australia’s colonial history. In a Great Southern Land is an amazing and powerful read that I was quite happy to find myself really enjoying. I ranked this book 4.5 stars, and I will be quite interested to see what period of Australian history O’Connor decides to explore next.
From Australian thriller author Michael McGuire comes a fast-paced story of death and mysterious disappearances in the skies which takes the reader on a high-octane thrill ride.
Every day, thousands of planes fly across our skies, transporting huge numbers of people and goods from one end of the world to the other. Many countries’ economies depend on the successful flights, and people have placed their trust in these machines to carry us. So when a plane mysteriously disappears without a trace off the coast of Australia, it sends shockwaves throughout the entire system.
Ted Anderson is a disgraced former pilot who has found work as an investigator in a top-secret Australian government intelligence agency. Sent by his bosses to find the missing plane, Ted travels to Indonesia to investigate the pilots. But as he uncovers strange clues in one pilot’s apartment, another plane disappears, and then a third. Like the first plane, no trace of these other missing aircrafts or their passengers can be found, and no organisation is claiming responsibility for the disappearances.
As the world descends into chaos and most people refuse to fly any more, a sudden need to escape from a squad of Indonesian police sees Ted forced onto a CIA plane to New York. While waiting for a flight home to Australia in a nearly deserted JFK airport, Ted observes a suspicious pilot about to leave on a trip to the Ukraine. With all his instincts screaming that this pilot’s plane will be the next one to disappear, Ted makes an insane choice and gets on the plane.
This is the second book from McGuire, following his 2017 political thriller debut, Never a True Word. This sounded liked an exciting thriller from a relatively new Australian author, and I was eager to see how McGuire would present an Australian espionage edge to this sort of story.
Following several high-profile disappearances or crashing of airplanes in recent years, the potential dangers of air travel have been made obvious to most people; therefore it was a bold choice by the author to focus a story around this. A lot of the suspense in this novel is based on the realistic dread that the characters within the story must be feeling as they contemplate the disappearances occurring. The sequence where the protagonist finds himself waiting in a plane that is potentially about to disappear is particularly harrowing, and the reader is able to feel the protagonist’s apprehension and worry. The results of these missing planes are also pretty gruesome in places, which adds to this storyline’s intense nature. I felt that McGuire did a fantastic job of crafting a fairly interesting mystery thriller out of this story premise. The eventual reveal of who or what is behind it is pretty intriguing and sets up some potential follow-up novels that will be worth checking out.
One of the main things you can say about this book is that it is extremely fast paced, which allows the reader to read through it rather quickly. There is barely a quiet moment, as the protagonist jumps from one situation to the next, attempting to uncover who or what is behind the disappearing airplanes. I rather liked this fast-paced approach to the story, as it fitted with the intense story content and reflected how quick and intense real-life intelligence agencies would jump into investigating events such as the disappearing planes featured within Flight Risk. This book is not as action-packed as you would expect from a thriller novel, but the author is still able to convey an exciting and compelling tale that keeps the reader on their toes. In addition, there is an extremely electrifying sequence in the air which serves as the book’s set piece. These inclusions mean that Flight Risk is very easy to read, which provides the reader with vast amounts of fun and some significant thrills in the right places.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about Flight Risk was the portrayal of how an Australian intelligence organisation would react to a devastating event such as those examined within this book. It was pretty cool seeing an Australian intelligence agent being at the centre of this world-wide event, and I enjoyed getting a look into his viewpoint about intelligence gathering. I thought it was intriguing to see McGuire’s depiction of the differences between Australia’s intelligence assets and other countries, such as America. For example, the Australian protagonist gets an iPad and some fake IDs as his gear, while his American counterpart gets a whole team and a military jet to investigate the disappearing planes. I enjoyed this realistic and noticeable difference between the American and Australian agents and their resources, and thought it added a unique element to the book. I also thought that the author’s examination of the world-wide implications of multiple disappearing planes was very clever and I liked the author’s look at the economic and social aspects of such an event.
Overall, I found Flight Risk to be an exciting new novel from Australian author Michael McGuire and I enjoyed the fast-paced action, enjoyable thriller elements and an intriguing new examination of Australia’s spy agencies and their place in the world’s intelligence communities. I did find the overall lack of any significant female characters a bit concerning, but I enjoyed the book’s story and thought this was a great piece of Australian thriller fiction.
Australian author Tony Park returns with a blast, as he once again dives into the heart of Africa to present his latest high-octane and deeply captivating novel, Scent of Fear.
Sean Bourke, former contractor in Afghanistan, has returned to his native South Africa and now works for his ex-wife’s company, which provides security dogs and handlers for the country’s game reserves to help stop the spread of poachers. Out on a routine anti-poaching patrol, new recruit Tumi Mabasa is almost killed in an explosion and her dog sufferers severe injuries. Someone has been rigging IEDs in the game preserves specifically to target the dogs and their handlers, and for Sean, the war he has spent years trying to escape from has suddenly followed him home.
Teaming up with Tumi and his best friend and former war colleague Craig Hoddy, Sean attempts to hunt down the bomber targeting them. As more attacks hit close to home and several members of the team are caught in the crossfire, Sean must go above and beyond to stop a sinister poaching syndicate and save his friends. But can Sean overcome these outside forces in addition to his own demons?
Tony Park is an interesting author. A former member of the Australian Defence Force, he has spent significant parts of his life in Southern Africa, where he sets most of his novels. Park has been writing since 2003, and his novels often feature modern militaristic protagonists adventuring in African wilderness. Scent of Fear is Park’s 16th novel, although he has also produced several non-fiction books, including the 2009 release War Dogs, which Park wrote with former Australian Army dog handler Shane Bryant.
Scent of Fear is a fast-paced and action-packed novel that explores the horrors of the poaching business in Africa in the midst of a thrilling adventure. Park creates an exhilarating novel that sets his damaged protagonist against a ruthless and at times hidden group of antagonists. The story makes good use of multiple perspectives to tell this tale from many different angles, which not only throws a new light into the conspiracy surrounding the main plot, but which also enhances the book’s many action sequences. The multiple perspectives also allow the histories of the book’s various characters to be explored in greater detail, to create a fuller and more intense narrative. The various motivations of the book’s protagonists and antagonists are displayed for the reader, and I was particularly intrigued by the deep examination of Sean’s inner issues, including a crippling gambling addiction that plays into the story extremely well. Overall this is quite an enjoyable storyline that has some surprising twists and excellent action sequences.
One of the most noticeable features of Scent of Fear is the excellent portrayals of the African landscape throughout the course of the story. Park is obviously very keen to show off the incredible locations that are a feature of his adopted homeland, which is a massive boon to his storytelling. There are a number of scenes set deep in the African bush, and the author does a fantastic job highlighting the beauty and danger contained out in these magnificent locations. In addition to the landscape, Park has also tried to show off various points of South African culture and lifestyles throughout the course of the book’s narrative. While the story is mostly set within the game preserves, there are a few city scenes, and the characters spend time discussing their lives and their pasts within South Africa. There are even a couple of scenes set within neighbouring Mozambique that may prove intriguing to various readers. I liked the way that Park constantly utilised South African phrases, greetings and slang throughout his dialogue, which gave the whole story a sense of authenticity. The background location is definitely a highlight of this book, and I hope to explore more of Africa in Park’s future novels.
It is probably important to note that this is not a great book for animal lovers, as Park takes a deep look at the horrors of the poaching trade and issues created by this destructive hunting. Poaching is obviously an issue dear to the author’s heart, as he presents a dark, no-punches-pulled look at the illegal trade in African wildlife and the lengths that some people will go to get the money associated with it. This is an intriguing centre to the book’s plot, and Park is clearly knowledgeable on the subject, discussing motivations for local and international poachers, details of the types of protections game reserves utilise and the various tricks and techniques poachers utilise. Scent of Fear initially focuses on the hunt for rhinos and their horns, but Park also spends time to explore a current epidemic in lion skeleton trading, which is an alternative to tiger bones in some cultures. The examinations of the human costs of poaching are examined throughout the book, as Park highlights the fact that anti-poaching patrols are frequently coming under attack in Africa. All of this serves as a grim backdrop to the story, but one that helps create a story with more social conscience.
I also really enjoyed the continued use of dogs throughout the book, as Park goes out of his way to sing the praises of the anti-poaching dogs that are currently being utilised successfully throughout Africa. There are several canine characters throughout the book that play a significant role in the book’s action and investigative scenes and I really enjoyed seeing how the dogs are helping to save the African wildlife. The author really invests in the utilisation of the dogs, and the reader gets to see their training and their full operational capacities, and the story is sprinkled with the protagonists calling out the dogs various commands. As I mentioned above, Park has previously written about dogs used in warzones, and this becomes an important part of Scent of Fear, with the poachers utilising explosives to attempt to take out the protagonists. This is another fascinating element of this book, and one that many readers will find incredibly interesting. Be warned, some dogs do get hurt in this book, so it might not be for everyone.
This is another wonderful addition from Australian author Park, who once again takes his readers to the very heart of modern Africa. With some interesting concepts, varied characters and a thrilling story, Scent of Fear is a great book to check out.
Following the conclusion of his long-running Frontier series, one of Australia’s most intriguing authors, Peter Watt, returns with a brand new adventure that features several intriguing characters involved with unique historical events during the Victorian era.
For as long as he could remember, colonial Ian Steele has always wanted to serve as an officer in the Queen’s army. However, for a humble blacksmith living just outside of Sydney Town, this seems like an impossibility. That is until 1852, when he meets Samuel Forbes, a young English aristocrat, poet and former Second Lieutenant in the army, who bears a striking resemblance to Ian. After prematurely finishing his commission following a terrifying campaign against the Maori warriors in New Zealand, Samuel is living with his uncle in Australia, avoiding returning home to a father who hates him and forced him to join the army against his will.
Samuel presents Ian with an interesting proposition. In order to receive a massive family inheritance, he needs to complete 10 years’ service in the army, but after his previous combat experiences he has no intention of heading back, preferring to seek adventure in America with the man he loves. However, wanting to receive the money and spite the father who abandoned him, Samuel has come up with a plan: send Ian in his place and then split the inheritance between them.
After the death of his mother, Ian accepts the offer and journeys to England to take his place as a captain in the Forbes family regiment. As he successfully integrates himself in the Forbes household, he becomes acquainted with the members of his new family. While Samuel’s sister and younger brother welcome him with open arms, Ian quickly discovers that Samuel’s father and older brother have no intention of giving up Samuel’s portion of the inheritance.
Ian’s desire to prove himself in battle is soon rewarded, as the regiment departs England for the continent. Nicknamed “the Queen’s colonial” by his soldiers, he gains a reputation in the fight against the Russians in the Crimean war. But while the Russians and disease are a constant danger, the greatest threat to Ian may come from his own side. An Australian fugitive hiding out in the regiment knows who Ian really is and could easily report him, while the devious plots of the Forbes family could strike him down at any time.
Peter Watt is a well-established historical fiction author who has been writing Australian based novels since 2000. The Queen’s Colonial is Watt’s 19th book, and is the first book he has written since concluding his 12-book Frontier series.
In The Queen’s Colonial, Watt continues with the same distinctive style that made his previous books such a treat to read. Throughout the book, the reader is shown various sides of the story from multiple point-of-view characters, as both the protagonists and antagonists journey through history’s most intriguing events and wars. There is also a minor hint of spirituality, although rather than the spirit of a vengeful Indigenous Australian that was such a major character in the Frontier series, The Queen’s Colonial features visions based around old British druids. Watt is a master of utilising multiple character perspectives to tell a strong and addictive narrative. While a large portion of the book is focused on the main character of Ian, several of the other characters are given starring roles throughout the book, and their adventures run parallel to the main storyline featuring Ian. This is a great way to tell a larger narrative, and it is fascinating to see how the actions of one character could impact on a different storyline. Each of the side storylines are pretty intriguing and allow the author to expand on several fun side characters throughout the course of the novel. Watt has engineered quite a lot of coincidental connections, which, while a tad unrealistic, is a great way of connecting these character storylines in various intriguing ways. I was somewhat surprised that Watt did not really show what Samuel Forbes was getting up to. Despite him being majorly important to the plot, very little is seen of his adventures after the start of the book. I would have been interested in seeing what he was getting up to, as well as his reactions to the events happening in the other storylines. Hopefully Watt will explore his subsequent focus on him a little more in any books that follow on from The Queen’s Colonial.
One of the best ways that Watt utilises his multiple perspectives is by showing the villainous actions of two of his main antagonists as they plot and scheme to rid themselves of the protagonist. These storylines are mostly told from the point of view of the oldest Forbes son Charles, and feature him and his father coming up with ways to kill the man they think is the second Forbes son, Samuel, but is really Ian in disguise. Watching them come up with several devious plans and commit terrible acts is pretty intense, especially as you watch these plots unfold in the sections of the book told from Ian’s point of view. It is quite fun for the reader to see Ian react to events that they knew was coming, and works to make an intriguing overall narrative.
I loved Watt’s depiction of the Crimean War, as the author does a fantastic job highlighting the brutality and harsh reality of this war, and the terrible conditions that the British troops had to deal with. Watt really captures the horrors of battle in his writing, and the reader is constantly brought into the middle of the book’s battle sequences thanks to the author’s detailed descriptions and historical features. While the battles are harrowing and bloody, quite a number of scenes show the horrifying results of the biggest killer of the British during this war, dysentery and other diseases. Watt is quite critical of most of the British officers who lead this army, and places most of the blame for the war’s disasters on the backs of inexperienced or incompetent officers. This is particularly exemplified by the character of Jenkins, who is promoted up through the army thanks to his family’s connections and money, and ends up getting many people killed thanks to his cowardice, incompetence and personal prejudices. History buffs will enjoy Watt’s focus on this war, which is often overlooked in historical fiction, especially the author’s determination to show the trials and tribulations of an infantry regiment in this war.
Peter Watt’s new book, The Queen’s Colonial, is an excellent piece of historical fiction that takes the reader on a fantastic adventure through time. Following a 19th century New South Wales colonial into the Crimean War is a great story, and I loved Watt’s great use multiple character perspectives to tell an overarching narrative. Watt once again shines as one of Australia’s best authors of historical fiction and readers of his latest novel will enjoy a cleverly crafted and captivating story.