Top Ten Tuesday – Unseen Library’s Top Australian Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday the assigned topic was a freebie associated with book covers; however, I decided to do something a little different. Because it was Australia Day on Sunday, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have read in the last couple of years. To that end, I am raiding the Australian fiction category of the Unseen Library and presenting my Top Ten favourite entries from it.

Each year Australian authors produce a huge range of amazing fiction across the various genres, and I am usually lucky enough to receive copies of some of these from the local publishers. As a result, I tend to read a lot of Australian fiction (which I am defining here as either fiction written by an Australian author or fiction with an Australian setting) most of which turn out to be pretty awesome reads which I review either here on in the Canberra Weekly. I am happy to once again highlight some of the top pieces of Australian fiction I have reviewed since I started the Unseen Library, as several of these outstanding books might not have gotten the international attention they deserved.

Due to huge plethora of fantastic Australian fiction that has fallen into my lap over the last couple of years, this list actually turned out to be a really hard one to pull together. I had way too many choices when it came to the best pieces Australian fiction I have read from the last couple of years, so in a few places I have combined a couple of books into one entry. In the end, I was able to work out what my top ten favourite pieces were, although I did also have to include a generous honourable mentions section. So let us see how this list turned out.

Honourable Mentions:


In a Great Southern Land
by Mary-Anne O’Connor

In a Great Southern Land Cover


Aurora Rising
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising Cover


Ghosts of the Past
by Tony Park

Ghosts of the Past Cover


Blood in the Dust
by Bill Swiggs

Blood in the Dust Cover

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):


Tomorrow
series by John Marsden

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There was absolutely no way that I could write a list about my favourite Australian fiction without having John Marsden’s Tomorrow series at the very top. Individually the books in the Tomorrow series are amongst some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have ever read, and together they are a perfect series. Words cannot describe how much I love this amazing series (although I tried really hard in the review linked above) and I have no doubt that it is going to remain my favourite Australian series for a very long time.

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Deceit is an extremely clever thriller revolving around Australian politics that came out in 2018. Thanks to its incredible realism and excellent story, I really enjoyed this book when it came out, and it ended up getting an honourable mention in my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. I absolutely loved this book and I have been meaning to read the sequel, Duplicity, for a little while now, especially as I suspect I will be just as good as this first fantastic book.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

Another book that featured on my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. City of Lies was an incredible fantasy debut which featured a superb story about a family of poison experts trying to keep their king alive during a siege. This was an awesome read, and I cannot wait for the sequel to this book, which is hopefully coming out later this year.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room Cover

The Escape Room was the second book from rising thriller star Megan Goldin, who has gotten a lot of positive attention over the last couple of years. The Escape Room was a very compelling novel that contained a clever revenge plot against a group of ruthless Wall Street traders. Goldin did a fantastic job with The Escape Room, and her upcoming book, The Night Swim, will hopefully be one of the reading highlights of the second half of 2020.

Restoration by Angela Slatter

Restoration Cover

Restoration was the third book in Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series (following on from Corpselight), which follow the titular character of Verity Fassbinder as she investigates magical crimes in modern day Brisbane. Restoration was a really fun read that got an easy five stars from me due to its incredible story, great use of an Australian setting and fantastic humour. Slatter outdid herself with Restoration, and I hope we get more Verity Fassbinder novels in the future.

All-New Wolverine series by Tom Taylor

All-New Wolverine Volume 1 Cover

Tom Taylor is an Australian-born author who has been doing some amazing work with some of the major comic book companies over the last few years. While I have read a bunch of his stuff (such as his run on X-Men Red), my favourite piece of his work has to be the All-New Wolverine series. All-New Wolverine was a deeply entertaining series that placed one of my favourite characters, X-23, into the iconic role of Wolverine. Not only did this series do justice to both X-23 and Wolverine’s legacy (before his inevitable resurrection) with some well-written and heavy storylines, but it was also a lot of fun, especially thanks to the introduction of Honey Badger.

The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

Peter Watt Covers

Peter Watt has long been one of the top authors of Australian historical fiction, and I have been a big fan of his work for a couple of years now. While I was tempted to include his Frontier series (make sure to check out my reviews for While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above), in the end I thought it would be better to feature his current Colonial series. The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger are excellent pieces of historical fiction containing an exciting and compelling story.

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

After the Lights Go Out is one of the few pieces of Australian young adult fiction which I feel matches up to the Tomorrow series in terms of quality and substance.   This book about a family of survivalists being thrust into an actual doomsday scenario was extremely captivating, and I loved this extraordinary novel. Really worth checking out.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover

Half Moon Lake is an amazing historical drama that was one of my favourite debuts from 2019. This book is a clever historical drama that was inspired by the real-life historical disappearance of a child and the tragic events that followed. A gripping and memorable book that comes highly recommended.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The most recent addition to my Australian fiction category, The Last Smile in Sunder City is another impressive debut which I had an incredible time reading. Arnold has come up with an excellent mystery set in an inventive new fantasy world with a conflicted central protagonist. This was an amazing first book from Arnold and I will hopefully be able to read his follow-up books in the future.

Well, that concludes my list. I am so happy that I got the chance to highlight some of the great pieces of historical fiction I have been fortunate enough to enjoy over the last couple of years. Each of the above books are exceptional reads, and I had a wonderful time reading all of them. While I was a little disappointed that I had to leave a few great books off this list, such as Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson, DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff and The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly, I really like how my list turned out. I think that I will come back and update this list in the future, probably close to next year’s Australia Day. I am highly confident that this next version of my list will contain some new books from 2020, and I look forward to seeing which pieces of upcoming Australian fiction I am really going to enjoy next. In the meantime, I hope all my fellow Australians had a great long weekend and please let me know which pieces of Australian fiction are favourites in the comments below.

In a Great Southern Land by Mary-Anne O’Connor

In a Great Southern Land Cover

Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback format – 18 March 2019)

Series: Standalone

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.