Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 15 August 2019.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 15 August 2019.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 1 July 2019)
Series: Ghost Town – Book 2
Length: 307 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Acclaimed Australian author Michael Pryor revisits his Ghost Town young adult series with another entertaining and intriguing story, Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town.
Anton Marin is having an extremely odd gap year. As a member of an infamous outcast ghost-hunting family, Anton can see the ghosts that linger in our world, and he has recently taken up the family business. Working with his new partner, the English badass Rani Cross, Anton works to protect the people of Melbourne from the more dangerous types of ghosts while also ensuring that all the wandering spirits they encounter are helped on to the next world. However, even with Rani’s help, ghost hunting in Melbourne has recently gotten even more difficult as the city finds itself in the midst of a genuine ghost plague. A massive infestation of the most dangerous types of ghosts imaginable is wreaking havoc across the city, and even usually benign or harmless spirits are starting to attack people.
Anton and Rani’s problems are about to get even worse; a deadly cult of Trespassers, humans who use magic to control ghosts for their own ends, is in town and determined to capture anyone with ghost sight for use in their rituals. As Anton and Rani find themselves with a target on their back, Anton must deal with the return of his long-lost aunt Tanja. While Anton is overjoyed to have a member of his family back, he quickly realises that not everything with his aunt is as it seems. What secrets is Tanja hiding and what is her connection to the leader of this group of Trespassers? As secrets and occult dangers arise within Melbourne, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Michael Pryor is one of Australian’s most notable authors of young adult fiction, having written a number of fantasy and science fiction novels for a younger audience. Some of his most notable series include The Law of Magic, The Extraordinaries and his six entries in the long-running The Quentaris Chronicles. Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is the second book in Pryor’s latest series, Ghost Town, and follows on from his 2017 release, Gap Year in Ghost Town. I initially thought that Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town was my first experience reading Pryor’s work, but I actually remember reading some of the books in The Doorways trilogy back when I was kid. While this was something like 20 years ago (and now I feel old), I do know that I greatly enjoyed these books and their clever concept, so I was excited to check it out.
Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is an interesting and engaging piece of young adult fantasy with a number of cool features. Pryor has done a fantastic job combining a unique concept of ghost hunting with a group of enjoyable characters and grounded the story in the author’s home city of Melbourne. This results in a great piece of fiction that will do a wonderful job of enthralling a whole new generation of young Australian readers. For those readers who are only just coming onto this series, knowledge of the previous book is not a necessity to enjoy this sequel, as the author does a good job of re-introducing the characters, plot details and adventures that were featured in Gap Year in Ghost Town.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this series is the overarching concept of a world haunted by real and potentially malevolent ghosts, and the adventures of the few individuals who can actually see them. Pryor has populated his story with all manner of different types of ghosts, each with their own specific characteristics, strengths and appearances. Readers will get to see the various ghosts that the protagonists go after, including the Lingers, Moaners, Thugs, Weepers and a new breed of zombie ghosts, just to name a few. All of these ghosts are really cool, and I enjoyed how this book started going into a little more detail about the origins of ghosts and the malevolent forces behind them. I also liked how the story also pivoted towards a more human antagonist in the form of the Trespassers, and it was intriguing to see how a group of people utilising the ghosts for nefarious purposes. It was interesting to see the protagonist’s ghost hunting techniques in action, and it results in some intense action sequences, especially when they have to fight ghosts and the Trespassers at the same time. This is an inventive and clever concept that helps make this series stand out from some of the other young adult fantasy books out there.
Another great distinguishing feature about this book is the author’s inclusion of a contemporary Melbourne setting. I love fantasy stories that utilise modern settings, and Pryor did an exceptional job bringing the city of Melbourne to life. The characters visit all manner of key landmarks in the city throughout the course of the story, and I really liked seeing locations I have visited featuring fights between ghost hunters and spirits. Pryor also uses the opportunity to showcase some of his favourite restaurants and cafes and it was nice to see an author insert elements of a city they clearly love into their story.
In addition to its intriguing concept and excellent setting, I was also impressed with the complex characters in Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town. The main protagonist is Anton, the funny and slightly odd heir to an exiled ghost hunting family with their own unique techniques for dispersing ghosts. Anton serves as the narrator and point-of-view character for the story, and he offers a fun and introspective narration to the book, while the revelations about certain family secrets offer up some interesting drama. The other main protagonist, Rani, is an extremely skilled sword-wielding badass who is a former member of an established ghost-hunting order from England and is an excellent female character for this series. Anton and Rani form a great team in this book, as the two of them find their groove as a partnership and work well against the threats they face. The character of Bec is an interesting third member of this partnership, as not only is she Anton’s oldest friend, who plays a cute game where they try to guess quotes from famous figures, but she is also Rani’s girlfriend, who they share an apartment and cat with. Bec really brings the team together, and there are some interesting examinations of the dynamics between the three of them, as each of them feels like they are the outsider in the group. There are also a few cool new additions to the series in this book, including a couple of Scottish ghost hunters, their ghost-hunting dog and a good antagonist in the form of the leader of the new cult of Trespassers.
Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is an excellent piece of young adult fiction that is appropriate for a wide range of different ages and tastes. While there are a few dark scenes, such as a somewhat gruesome torture sequence, the vast majority of the book is appropriate for young teens and perhaps particularly mature young readers. I thought the author’s inclusion of a positive lesbian relationship between Rani and Bec was a really good feature for the young adult audience, and it was that was portrayed extremely well. I am also sure that young Australian readers, especially those living in Melbourne, will love to see these fantasy variations of locations they are familiar with, and it will hopefully invigorate their imagination.
Michael Pryor has done an amazing job following up Gap Year in Ghost Town, as he presents another compelling and enjoyable paranormal young adult adventure. With inventive ghosts, scary antagonists, great characters and a fantastic Australian setting, Pryor has once again shown why he is one of the leading authors of young adult fiction in Australia. Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is definitely worth checking out, and it has a lot of features that should prove appealing to the younger teen audience.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 17 June 2019)
Series: LIFEL1K3 – Book 2
Length: 423 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
From one of the most prolific young adult fiction authors, Jay Kristoff, comes the follow up to his electrifying 2018 smash-hit LIFEL1K3, DEV1AT3.
Over the last few years, Australian author Jay Kristoff has been one of the leading contributors to young adult fiction, writing several bestselling series. His works include The Lotus War series, the highly regarded The Nevernight Chronicles, and The Illuminae Files, which he co-wrote with fellow Australian Amie Kaufman. DEV1AT3 is actually the second of three Kristoff books being released this year, as he has already released the first book in his second collaborative series with Kaufman, Aurora Rising. Darkdawn, the third and final book in The Nevernight Chronicles, is set to be released in early September.
People who keep an eye on my blog may have noticed that I did a short review of DEV1AT3 a few weeks ago in a Canberra Weekly column. I have been meaning to write up an extended review of the book for a while now, as it was quite an enjoyable book with a lot of cool features. DEV1AT3 follows on from the incredibly popular first book, LIFEL1K3. The LIFEL1K3 series follows the adventures of four young friends in the dangerous post-apocalyptic remains of America, now controlled by rival mega-companies and gangs of religious fanatics.
DEV1AT3 is set in the immediate aftermath of the dramatic conclusion of LIFEL1K3, when the protagonist of the first book, Eve, found out the terrible truth of her origin: she is secretly a lifelike, an android who can ignore the Three Laws of Robotics. Worse, she is actually a replica of Ana Monrova, the daughter of the creator of the lifelikes, Nicholas Monrova, whose creations rebelled against him and killed his entire family. With the realisation that everything she has ever known is a lie, Eve begins to plot with the murderous Gabriel and the other lifelikes to find the comatose body of Ana. While Eve simply wants to kill the woman whose life she is imitating; the other lifelikes will use Ana’s body to unlock Monrova’s secrets in order to start a robot revolution.
Out in the post-apocalyptic wastelands surrounding Babel, Eve’s friends, Lemon Fresh, Ezekiel and Cricket, have seen better days. Not only were each of them forced to abandon Eve for different reasons but they must all face their individual consequence of the events that occurred within Babel. When unexpected events force them to separate, each of these friends find themselves in a whole world of trouble.
Lemon Fresh’s status as a deviate, a genetic mutant with the ability to manipulate electricity, has always landed her in trouble, but now she finds herself the ultimate pawn in a war between two of the major corporations that rule the land. Kidnapped by an agent of BioMaas Incorporated, Lemon eventually finds herself falling in with a band of fellow deviate teenagers, each with their own unique abilities, and whose leader, the Major, may hold the secrets to her past.
At the same time, the logika Cricket is stolen and sold to the Brotherhood, a group of religious fanatics determined to destroy every android, deviate and genetically modified being they can find. As the Brotherhood edges closer to a war with the Major’s deviates, Cricket is forced to fight as a robot gladiator while learning the dark secrets at the heart of the cult. Meanwhile, Ezekiel, the one lifelike with any love for humanity, teams up with an old enemy in order to track down Lemon Fresh and Cricket. However, when Ezekiel’s mission leads him into the path of Eve and his other lifelike brothers and sisters, he attempts to find a way to stop their destructive crusade and save his beloved Ana.
This was a fantastic piece of young adult fiction that does a wonderful job of following up the first book in the series. Kristoff tells an exciting story which not only continues the plot lines of the first book but which also takes the characters in some intriguing new directions. However, despite some differences in plot focus, the book continues to feature the cool allusions to other works of fiction that made the first book such a treat to read, and it continues to explore aspects of this intriguing post-apocalyptic setting. Readers who did not get the chance to read the first book, LIFEL1K3, last year will easily be able to start by reading DEV1AT3. Not only is the story quite accessible but it also starts off with an extremely detailed summary of the events and characters from the first book, which allows anyone to fully catch up with where the plot is.
One of the most interesting changes between this book and LIFEL1K3 is that the protagonist of the first book, Eve, is instead cast as an antagonist, and we end up seeing very little of the book’s plot from her point of view. Instead, the plot of DEV1AT3 is mostly split between the three perspectives of Lemon Fresh, Cricket and Ezekiel, who each have their own unique storylines. Each of these storylines is noticeably different, with all three of them making use of some unique features to help create an intriguing and emotionally strong story. The reader gets a real feel for all three of these point-of-view characters throughout the course of their individual plots, and several intriguing new side-characters are introduced. These separate storylines come together to form one amazing overall narrative, which ends with an amazing cliff-hanger for each of the main characters that will ensure readers will have to check out the final book in this series when it comes out.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the LIFEL1K3 series is that each of the books is marketed as a crazy mash-up of several different works of fiction. For example, the first book in the series had a real Alita Battle Angel crossed with Mad Max and Blade Runner vibe to it. Many of the references to the plots of various other media titles that were started in the first book are continued in DEV1AT3. For example, the whole Mad Max vibe of life in the wasteland is actually really enhanced in this book, as the vast majority of the story is spent out in the nuclear wastes and smaller outposts that make up the ruins of America, with a number of crazy car chases in souped-up doomsday vehicles featured throughout. We also get a deeper look at the whole Bladerunner aspect of the story, as Eve comes to terms with actually being a lifelike and attempts to get revenge for her creation.
In this second book, Kristoff’s plot also makes allusions to several other pieces of fiction in the three various storylines. For example, Lemon Fresh’s storyline is an interesting post-apocalyptic take on the X-Men, with the super-powered teen finding kinship with a group of similarly gifted individuals in a world that hates and fears them. The new deviates introduced in this storyline have a pretty cool range of powers, have all been attacked because of their abilities and even have a wise old mentor character in the Major. The various twists associated with this storyline are really clever, and it was interesting to see more deviates aside from Lemon. Ezekiel also has a great storyline within DEV1AT3. While much of his story is still tied up with his feelings for Eve, the lifelike copy of the woman he loves, and all the Bladerunner-esque emotions and thoughts he and his lifelike family experienced in the first book, Kristoff adds a fun new element to his storyline in this book. For much of his storyline, Ezekiel actually teams up with Preacher, the cyborg bounty hunter who was an antagonist of the first book. This is a very fun team-up, and it harkens back to a lot of classic odd-couple crime movies, with the two having a very rocky relationship that kind of improves as the story goes along.
I personally liked Cricket’s storyline the most. Cricket is a logika, a sentient robot who must obey the Three Laws of Robotics. Cricket, who was previously a small assistant robot, had his personality transferred into a massive combat robot in the last book. However, he is kidnapped by members of the Brotherhood, the insidious religious group fighting against Lemon Fresh’s new deviate brethren. Cricket, who has to obey all the orders given to him by the Brotherhood due to the Three Laws of Robotics, is forced to fight in a series of gladiatorial combats. This storyline gives the reader the best insight into the ranks of the Brotherhood, and Cricket uncovers certain secrets while working for them. With the whole Three Laws aspect, this storyline is obviously very reminiscent of the science fiction classic I, Robot; however, Kristoff comes up with some humorous takes on the Three Laws. Thanks to the assistance of the snarky logika Solomon (who I found to be one of the funniest characters in DEV1AT3), Cricket starts to learn how to utilise the loopholes in people’s statements, so he has a degree of freedom and he also makes use of a simple solution to counteract one of the laws, which was pretty funny. All of these references to these established pieces of fiction are great, and I really liked how the author adapted them to fit his compelling young adult story. I especially enjoyed seeing some complex science fiction ideas, such as Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, explained to a younger audience, with some cool tweaks to make a more entertaining and modern story.
In addition to fun story and clever references to other works, one of the most interesting things about the LIFEL1K3 series is the cool post-apocalyptic setting that the author has come up with. The nuclear ruins of America always makes for an intriguing setting for a story, and I really enjoyed the cool combination that Kristoff makes in this series with savage nuclear wasteland and high-tech cities. The sheer amount of creativity that Kristoff utilises for the setting is really impressive, as this book alone features wars between rival corporations, desert-dwelling religious nuts, mutants, rebelling androids, bandits and mutated monsters. All of these are utilised extremely well in the story, and I look forward to seeing what other cool aspects of this broken world become apparent in the next instalment of this series.
DEV1AT3 is another wild ride from Jay Kristoff that I had a lot of fun reading. Featuring an excellent story that makes great use of references to some classic pieces of science fiction and fantasy, DEV1AT3 is a fantastic read that refuses to slow down for everything. This is a highly recommended read for the older young adult market, and it will also appeal to older readers. I am extremely curious to see where Kristoff takes this story next and look forward to another electrifying adventure in this mad-cap world.
Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 25 June 2019)
Series: Benedict Hitchens series – Book 2
Length: 404 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
It’s time for another exciting archaeological adventure in the turbulent 1950s as Meaghan Wilson Anastasios returns with the second book in her Benedict Hitchens series, The Emerald Tablet.
Anastasios is an Australian academic who started writing fiction back in 2014 when she co-wrote her first historical fiction novel, The Water Diviner, with her husband, Andrew Anastasios. This first book was fairly successful and was loosely adapted into a film of the same name featuring Russel Crowe. Last year, Meaghan Anastasios wrote her first solo novel, The Honourable Thief. The Honourable Thief serves as the first book in the Benedict Hitchens series, which follows the adventures of the series’ titular protagonist, Benedict Hitchens, an ambitious American archaeologist living in Turkey.
In The Honourable Thief, Hitchens, a respected academic and war hero, was seduced by the beautiful Eris, who showed him a fabulous collection of artefacts she had apparently recovered. The seduction and the artefacts were revealed to be part of an elaborate con which ended up ruining Hitchens’s academic reputation and forced him to live a life of exile in Istanbul. The incident also provided Hitchens with a series of clues which eventually leads him to the hidden tomb of Achilles. However, this was revealed to be part of a further con: while he was able to find the tomb, Eris and her employer, Garvé, a man who Hitchens had significant history with during World War II, subsequently stole the tomb’s greatest treasure, the Shield of Achilles.
Now, a year later in 1956, Hitchens’s excavation of Achilles’s tomb has helped restore his academic reputation, and his life is back on track. However, he has never forgotten Eris, who still has a hold on his heart even after she betrayed him. When he finds out that Eris, now calling herself Essie, is in Istanbul researching a rare and ancient document, he decides to investigate what she is up to. He quickly discovers that she and Garvé are searching for the Emerald Tablet, a legendary artefact rumoured to hold powerful alchemical secrets that could alter the world.
Determined to keep the Emerald Tablet out of Garvé’s hands, Hitchens begins his own hunt for the tablet. With his friend the crooked antiques dealer Ilhan Aslan at his side, Hitchens follows a series of clues deep into the Middle East. However, this is a dangerous time, as tensions between Egypt, Israel and the European powers are at an all-time high. Hitchens and Aslan soon find that the Emerald Tablet’s trail leads them right into the middle of the chaotic Suez Canal crisis. With agents of the various world powers also searching for the tablet and a murderous assassin following Hitchens’s every move, can he recover the tablet before it is too late, or will Garvé once again outsmart him? And what will happen when Hitchens once again comes face-to-face with the woman who stole his heart?
This was a fantastic follow-up to Anastasios’s first solo novel, and the author has done a great job continuing the story from the first Benedict Hitchens book. The Emerald Tablet has a fast-paced and exciting story focused on the search for an intriguing artefact and featuring an interesting look at a major historical event of the 1950s. In addition, Anastasios tries out some new storytelling methods and a focus on one of the villains from the first novel, which work well to create a fascinating overall narrative. All of this results in an amazing book which I had a fun time reading.
While the first book in the series, The Honourable Thief, employed several separate timelines spread out through the book, Anastasios chose a different format for The Emerald Tablet. This second book is told in a linear way, with the events occurring in a chronological order. This time, however, the story is told from the perspectives of Hitchens and Eris/Essie, who show two different sides of the hunt for the Emerald Tablet.
I really enjoyed the central hunt for the Emerald Tablet that formed the main part of the book. Not only has Anastasios chosen an absolutely fascinating artefact for all the characters to chase but she has created a compelling archaeological and historical mystery surrounding its hidden location. The point-of-view characters are forced to follow a series of elaborate historical clues, many of which can be interpreted in different ways thanks to historical context or locations. Having the two-separate point-of-view characters works incredibly well for this part of the story, as both Hitchens and Eris receive different hints or have conflicting interpretations of the same historical clues, which results in them searching in different locations. This central story is filled with a number of great twists and betrayals, and I quite liked how the protagonists had to contend with agents of the various world powers who have an interest in the tablet for their own ends. Agents of the American, Soviet, British, Israeli and Turkish governments all have a role to play in the adventure, as well as agents of the central antagonist, Garvé. Not only does this increase the action and intrigue of the book but it also raises the stakes of the hunt for the artefact. The reader is constantly left guessing about the location and nature of the artefact Hitchens is hunting for. This was an excellent central narrative for this book, and I had a great time exploring this new archaeological mystery.
Just like she did with The Honourable Thief, Anastasios has chosen a fascinating treasure that the book’s various characters are trying to locate. The Emerald Tablet is an intriguing item out of history and mythology, which is rumoured to hold the secrets to transmutation. The author does a fantastic job of exploring the various myths and theories about the origins and nature of the tablet and the reader gets a great idea of its potential and why it has been hidden. It was a great summary of such an intriguing and unique item from history, especially as the author plays up the mystical side of the whole artefact. There are also outright hints that magic or alchemy, especially the alchemical transmutation of the Emerald Tablet, are real in this universe, which not only makes this story just that little more entertaining, but it could result in some fun adventures in the future. The whole mystical angle also allowed the author to explore some of the occultist groups of the early 20th century, such as the followers of Aleister Crowley, who was quite a peculiar historical figure. Readers will find all of this incredibly riveting, and I felt that these curious subjects added a lot of interest to the overall story.
Anastasios’s use of historical Turkey and Crete was one of the highlights of The Honourable Thief, and I loved that she has once again chosen another captivating historical setting to use as the backdrop for this sequel. While the author does set a bit of The Emerald Tablet in Turkey, this book also explores the Suez Crisis of 1956, as the point-of-view characters spend time in Egypt and Israel and witness some of the crisis firsthand. Most of the course of the war is shown through the excellent use of realistic newspaper clippings set at the front several chapters that showcase how the situation between Egypt, Israel, France, England, the United States and other nations broke down and led to conflict. However, the accounts from Hitchens and Eris reveal that parts of the crisis where instigated as a cover for some of the sides to attempt to seize the Emerald Tablet. This makes for a fun tweak to history which fits the rest of the story quite well. The use of two separate point-of-view characters also allowed for a broader vision of the crisis, as one character mostly viewed it from Egypt, while the other saw it from within Israel, and both characters interacted with members of the country who had opinions about the upcoming conflict. I once again really enjoyed Anastasios’s use of 1950s historical settings, especially the Suez Crisis, and I feel it is one of the best parts of her Benedict Hitchens books.
There is a lot of good character work included in The Emerald Tablet. Not only do we finally get a close look at the mysterious character from the first book, Eris, but we get to further explore the psyche of Hitchens following the traumatic events of the previous book. Eris’s background is revealed in this book and it is a pretty interesting tale. I really enjoyed seeing her side of the story in this book. Not only does it allow the author to showcase this character’s past and her association with the villainous Garvé but we also get to see her motivations for the actions in this book and The Honourable Thief, including her feelings for Hitchen’s following her betrayal of him. Hitchens was already a fairly emotionally damaged character in the first book due to the death of his wife during World War II. However, Eris’s betrayal in the previous book has also had a marked impact on him, and he is obsessed with finding her again. This becomes one of his main motivations in The Emerald Thief, and he goes to extreme lengths to try and claim the tablet before she does, partially to frustrate her and partially in case it leads him to her. Their eventual meeting is an excellent part of the book, and we finally get to see how their relationship might be without the manipulations of Garvé. Certain complications will likely make this relationship an intriguing part of any future books in the series, and I look forward to them reuniting again. Can I also say: thank goodness that Hitchens wised up a little in this book. After some serious blunders from the genius archaeologist in the first book, I was glad that it took a little more to fool him this time.
I feel the need to comment on some of the rather racy scenes that Anastasios included in this book which may prove to be a bit surprising for some readers. Not only is there a rather disturbing ritualistic orgy as part of the story but there was a rather explicit scene in the first few pages of the book that nearly threw me off right at the start. I personally thought that these scenes were a bit unnecessary and somewhat distracting from the main story, but there were some plot reasons for them, and the rest of the story is really enjoyable.
Overall, The Emerald Tablet is an extremely entertaining novel, which does a superb job building on the foundations of the first book in the series. Anastasios has done an outstanding job combining together a fascinating archaeological mystery with emotional character work and an excellent historical setting. The Emerald Tablet is an amazing read, and I look forward to seeing what crazy artefact Benedict Hitchens attempts to find in his next book.
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.