The Old Drift was a book I had on my radar for a while, hearing very positive buzz from the literary book community. However, I was surprised to hear it turn up on the Clarke Award shortlist as I didn’t realize it had a speculative element.
Reading through it now I see that, whilst it may not be an obvious element, what the book is trying to do is very much a tale of speculative fiction. It is about the history of Zambia but also about where it is going in the future. It is about a family coming through changing times but also about how science changes society for better or worse.
Whether it is the combination of technologies that leads to the colonial project or the short lived attempt for a Zambian space project, the experimentation on black people for vaccines or nanotechnology, this does what the best science fiction should do. Tell us how the changing world is going to affect ordinary people and use it as a lens to explore the issues of our times.
It should also be noted there is some careful sprinkling of magical realism in here as characters will display unusual attributes which act as clever metaphors for what is happening in their lives, along with making more general points about the treatment of African women in some cases.
This book covers a huge span of characters, time and concepts for a 600 page novel, and yet Serpell manages to ensure it never feels dense or crowded. She is a master of prose managing to dance between bitter irony, polemic and technothriller in a short space without you even noticing the change.
One of the great challenges of reviewing such a complex book is that I do not want to give away too much detail, it is an experience that you need to have for yourself. Not one that a less skilled writer, like myself, should attempt to explain here.
A good comparison on this would be The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which won the Clarke in 2017. For some that is a work of literary historical fiction, for others it is the perfect encapsulation of what science fiction should set out to do. Whichever way you end up reading this, it is one you should seek out. It is the first book from an extremely talented writer, and I hope Serpell becomes just as well known as Whitehead in the future.
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
I am not as big a fan of the Wayfarers series as some, so unfortunately To Be Taught, If Fortunate did not grab me as much as it has other people. The concepts were certainly interesting, but neither the style nor character work were to my tastes.
Silver in the Wood has a lot going for it that I liked, with folk horror, the sense of melancholy and the queer elements. I did wish it had more of an emotional punch but still a strong contender.
My choice of We Are Made of Diamond Stuff was a curveball but I really enjoyed a story that revels in being this stylistically interesting whilst also exploring the near-future through metaphor.
This is the third iteration of The Deep and as such Solomon keeps the myth evolving. They produce a story with a beautifully musical rhythm and major world-building to tell us about how our past still impacts us today. A show of real skill being able to show this in novella length.
But there is a reason why This Is How You Lose The Time War was the most acclaimed work of science fiction last year. An epistolary novel that unfolds beautifully and brimming with ideas, themes and metaphors that I see new things every time I go through it. An instant classic.
Additional Nominees: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi
Black Matter is a fun urban fantasy idea. I didn’t feel like it was doing anything particular new but a very enjoyable piece. Also from Pseudopod we have another intriguing piece.
I enjoy monologues that tell a story in themselves ever since we started exploring the concept in primary school. As such In Regards to Your Concerns About Your Scare BnB Experience was one I really liked. It wasn’t as deep as some of the other stories but still great.
I felt Even When The World Has Told Us We Have Ended had a lot of interesting ideas in it they were not all as fully developed as I would have liked. One which definitely shows a lot of promise and I will keep my eyes out for more work by Hellisen.
Doll Seed is a germ of a story that I feel like could do with being grown. I like the imagery but felt like it should have been longer and have more to it.
This Book Will Find You is a fascinating collaboration to open the great collection, The Outcast Hours. The story does interesting things with the concept and has a wonderful atmosphere.
Do Not Look Back My Lion is the only piece of the SCKA shortlist and also on the hugo shortlist, and it is easy to see why. It is a great piece of epic fantasy, really well made. Alix E. Harrow is definitely proving to already be one of the great talents of the fantasy genre.
The Blanched Bones, The Tyrant Wind is almost flash fiction but Karen Osborne manages to do a very interesting take on standard fantasy tropes in such a short space of time. I really liked it a lot.
But my personal favourite of these has to be The Ocean That Fades Into Sky. Since I first read it I was entranced. Amazing imagery, great ideas and wonderfully weird
Additional Nominees: In This Moment, We Are Happy by Chen Quifan, The Migration Suite: A Study in C Sharp Minor by Maurice Broaddus
The Winternight Trilogy is a great atmospheric work. It really manages to capture the feel of the Russian winter as well as the magic of the folktales of the region. It is also very well-written marking Aden out as a great writer. I didn’t feel it had as much to say as many other recent stories we have set in a fantastic version of Eastern Europe or Russia, but purely as a work of enjoyment, it is wonderful
The Empires of Dust series is one I admired more than liked myself. To be honest I am not a big fan of this kind of grimdark story and so, whilst I had a lot of appreciation for Anna Smith Spark’s craft, subjectively it was not one I enjoyed reading.
One of the more interesting choices this year is Laurie J. Marks’ Elemental Logic series. This definitely has very traditional fantasy routes but was also willing to open up to new areas with modern vernacular, new concepts and some great character work.
In our first repeat nominee, The Winnowing Flame returns after The Ninth Rain won our inaugural SCKA. What was present in our reason for choosing the first volume as a great novel continues throughout the trilogy, with memorable characters and Williams’ lightness of touch but that makes these a fast paced but also fascinating read.
Finally, The Swords and Fire trilogy is one of the most complex nominees. On one level it is a fun fantasy romp about two people finding themselves whilst caught up in diplomacy and intrigue of a great empire, it is a story about enslavement and autonomy within a colonial power. Whilst it is not quite as successful as I might have hoped it is one of great ambition and thoroughly enjoyable.
Additional Nominees: Rosewater by Tade Thompson, Luna Series by Ian McDonald, Children of Time Duology by Adrian Tchaikovsky,
But which will go through to the final round? Watch this space to find out.
This year our SCKA awards had a larger number of women and non-binary people and as such I wanted to give my thoughts on the categories:
For me this has been the strongest category this year with none of them being particularly weak.
I was least impressed by The True Queen by Zen Cho but I think this was predominantly due to my aversion to sequels rather than any lacking quality in the book. It was still very well-written and had interesting comments to make on colonialism but compared to the other nominees in the category it didn’t have quite the same wow factor.
A not dissimilar book which impressed me more was Tasha Suri’s Realm of Ash, a sequel to Empire of Sand which manages to achieve the rare feat of outdoing the original. This also addresses ideas of colonialism and control but this manages to delve deeper into the characters and make you feel emotionally invested in a world filled with scheming characters.
Silvia Moreno Garcia is a recurring nominee in the SCKA and someone whose career I have been watching with much interest even if none of her works have yet to be one I consider a future classic. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the work that I think changes that and marks a leap forward in her writing. What this has is the brilliantly evoked atmosphere of jazz age Mexico transporting the reader in the way the best historical fiction does.
Talking of transportation, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was one of the most buzzed about books in 2019 and I can see why. First of all, Harrow brings a great amount of skill in her character work to really draw you in. Secondly, this has a really literary style and a clear intent to be in dialogue with works of the late 19th & early 20th century. Finally, this all comes together to help explore ideas around identity and who has control of a narrative.
However, none of these I loved quite as much as my top two. Gilded Wolves is a fully 3 dimensional fantasy. It has great world-building and atmosphere in an alternative Paris. It has real depth allowing for exploration of colonialism and resilience in the face of racism. But, most importantly, it is also just a great fun heist story which I adored.
But my number one pick, far and away, has to be Kingdom of Souls. This one has everything. Great characters, wonderful mythology and world-building. Loved the journeys and culture and messages about family dynamics and history. Often the fantasy genres can be regurgitating the same old tales in new clothing. This one felt brilliantly fresh in a way I haven’t experience in quite a while.
Additional Nominee: The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Science Fiction Novel
Velocity Weapon is a novel with a good concept that fails to quite deliver on it. The setup of Sandra suddenly waking up and believing it might be the future and her entire world is dead but not knowing if she can really trust this information sounds great. Unfortunately, the characters and plotting ended up losing me as it went on. Not terrible just not as great as I would have hoped.
Much like The Ten Thousand Doors of January, A Memory Called Empire has been getting a lot of buzz and I can certainly see why. It has a great mystery and the world building and themes are excellent. I am always a sucker for intrigue and political shenanigans, so combining these with themes of imperialism and identity work really well.
All City was a book I got recommended to me early in 2019 and I was absolutely enthralled by it. What this essentially is, is a character study of very different people put into unusual circumstances but DiFrancesco does this with such skill that it elevates into embracing much broader ideas and creating something harsh but beautiful.
Finally, one that consumed me completely. I ended up reading The Outside in almost one sitting, only taking short breaks to calm down from all the tension. Everything was just wonderful. The setting, the mystery, the handling of difficult issues, the character work, the writing of action scenes. Even the sciencey stuff I was interested in. A truly staggering achievement.
Note: With recent allegations against Elizabeth Bear I am taking a personal decision not to discuss her novel in this post.
Additional Nominees: Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner; Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell
Blurred Boundaries Novel
The Infinite Noise is an interesting one in that it is telling the stories of The Bright Sessions podcast from a different perspective, instead focusing on the romance plot. I am a big fan of the podcast so, unfortunately, this probably worked against me. As such I knew a lot of what was coming and spent too much time recalling the session these parts related to. I enjoyed it all but didn’t wow me the way some others did.
Unlike the other books on this list getting a lot of hype, Gideon The Ninth didn’t live up to it in my mind. It has a good aesthetic and the setup is standard good one. However, the characters and mystery didn’t weld together. Also I felt it had pacing issues in the second half. Still very enjoyable.
From a dark gothic tale, to one that is light and dreamy. The Strawberry Thief, in spite of how tightly put together it is and complex the ideas are, ends up being a charming read. This largely goes to Joanne Harris’ writing which is masterful.
I was a big fan of the first two stories in the Rupert Wong series, so was more than happy to dive into the final story. This moves the setting to America and deals with the Old Gods versus the New. Whilst not quite as strong as the previous volumes it is still one I thoroughly enjoyed.
An interesting story of Disneyland meets Westworld, The Kingdom brings together fairytale elements into ideas around AI rights and what it means to be human. Really grabbed me all the way through.
But the one that stands out for me by far is The Migration. This really hit it all right notes for me. It was a beautiful mediation on the nature of grief and health and using really clever allusions and mythology to really illustrate the themes. It also managed to combine a beautiful dream like atmosphere with some darker twists.
Additional Nominees: The Institute by Stephen King; David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Coming soon: Part 2: Novellas, Short Stories and Series
I am a great fan of brevity in my stories and think the revival of the novella has been a major boon to science fiction. However, this is one of the first times I have had to put as my criticism, it needs to be longer.
The reason I would say this is there is an incredible amount going on in the world of The Seep. It is an Earth where aliens have attempted to relieve all of the problems of mankind. And as such the complexities of such a world and fascinating when we see them touched upon. Unfortunately, this does not have room to explore them in the depth I would have liked to have seen. The hints we are see are wonderful, but they rarely become more than just hints.
What we have instead is a novel about grief. Trina is happy with her wife Deeba, however Deeba wishes to be reborn as a baby. With Trina not willing to go through this with her, it ends up being as if Deeba has died to her and her life spirals. While people try to be supportive, it is a world where people are expected to be happy and not have to go through this kind of troubles. As such Trina finds herself getting more and more frustrated with the world that is trying to help her move on.
Where Porter excels is in the character work. Being told from Trina’s perspective she is able to articulate the pain that can come from a loss like this and what it can feel like not being able to really find an outlet for your feelings. In some ways it reflects the attitude in our current society as well where an individual is expected to simply stop being sad and get on with life, rather than really being allowed to feel their loss and work through it in the way we are intended to.
Along her journey comes with her is a sentient pamphlet called Pam. Imagine if the old Microsoft Office Clippy was both psychic and able to learn and you will get the gist. Just as Trina is exploring her feelings, Pam starts to understand the world from the opposite end, going from seeing grief as a simple process for humans to move through to seeing it as a more grey and complicated part of existence.
It also touches on issues of cultural identity and appropriation. That if you remove distinction and see people’s merely as empty shells, does that not simply erase the importance of history and culture?
This is where the frustration comes in however, as the ending does not really end up exploring these questions thoroughly enough for me and comes much closer to the libertarian dystopias of the 1990s. Simply stating how important feeling and the bad parts of our lives is to who we are. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with message. I just wish it could have been more.
I don’t want this review to come across too negative. The amount of positives in it far outway the negatives. I am just left with the sense of something half complete. I think Porter could easily have filled a book 3 times the length and not run out of things to explore in the Earth of The Seep.
So do still pick it up. The writing style, character work and world-building are excellent and I hope you will be as fascinated by what Porter has created as I am.
Sometimes you end up reading not the book you expected but the book you needed. This is one of those cases.
I had heard references to Beggars in Spain in passing over the years. That it was an expansion of a well-received novella. It was nominated for a number of major awards at the time (along with its sequel). But it has largely fallen off people’s radars and appears to be out of the print in the UK. The audiobook is still available, so it became my medium of choice.
I am not sure why but I had expected something more akin to Queen City Jazz or Parable of the Sower. A post-apocalyptic tale of survival and genetic manipulation. Instead it is a near-future tale asking a moral question. If you met a beggar in Spain, should you give them money when they ask you, given they can do nothing for you in return?
In order to explore this Nancy Kress sets up two elements. First of all, the structural. A small group of children are modified so they no longer need to sleep. In doing so they become more intelligent, have increased life-span, and are able to amass much larger wealth. As such you have a group that are actually more successful due to natural advantage than through any systemic bias.
The second element is the philosophical. Kenzo Yagai is a genius who builds an amazing source of energy and sells it to the American government. Setting himself up as a cross between Elon Musk and Ayn Rand, he ends creating the philosophy of Yagaiism, whereby the worth of an individual is what they can supply to the community. The sleepless set this up and see those that do require sleep as simply beggars to their success.
Between these two forms and over a long period of time we follow, in particular, two of the sleepless who operate at different ends of the philosophical continuum. Leticia believes that they should use their increased knowledge and privilege to help the sleepers. Jennifer believes that sleepers will always hate them, wanting to create a separate society. Creating between very much a Professor X vs Magneto situation, albeit one with less super-powered battles and more debates on the nature of wealth distribution.
This story is expertly told, both by Kress’ writing and Campbell’s narration. This could easily descend into dull didacticism but for me it all felt like it flowed naturally and created a believable buildup of the world. Campbell’s voice added to this further being able to beautifully display the increased frustration Leticia is feeling at the world around her.
I don’t want to spoil the ending to this book but needless to say it stands alone well without needing to read the sequels and the conclusion is that the world cannot be as black and white as either Yagaiists or sleeper supremacists like to make it seem.
It’s that time of year again! Roll out your completely personal opinions and give up on any sense of order because The Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards nominees have been announced:
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron The True Queen by Zen Cho Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi The Ten thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
Science Fiction Novel:
Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear All City by Alex DiFrancesco The Outside by Ada Hoffman A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe Fleet of Knives by Gareth Powell Steel Frame by Andrew Skinner Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw The Institute by Stephen King The Migration by Helen Marshall Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone The Deep by Rivers Solomon (with Clipping) Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh We Are Made of Diamond Stuff by Isabel Waidner
Winternight by Katherine Arden Swords and Fire by Melissa Caruso Luna by Ian McDonald Elemental Logic by Laurie J. Marks Empires of Dust by Anna Smith Spark Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky Rosewater by Tade Thompson The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams
Yes it is that time of year for the annual Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards for 2020.
As anyone who has been following along for the last few years these awards are put together by a series of bloggers to celebrate their favourite science fiction and fantasy of the prior year and have chaotic fun.
For this year we have two changes:
Firstly we have added a new category. We will now be awarding for our favourite short fiction, classified as any work published of less than 17,500 words.
Secondly, we have expanded our judging panel so allow us to introduce the other members of the judging panel:
KJ aka @crusaderofchaos is a South African book blogger specialising in all things speculative fiction with a particular love for science fiction. He can be found plodding away at the keyboard trying to make words make sense whenever inspiration, work and power blackouts allows. Occasionally he even posts the reviews at www.worldsinink.blogspot.com
Matt aka Womble aka @Runalongwomble is a book tempter ahem blogger at Runalongtheshelves.net and is the sweet voice on your shoulder telling you that it’s ok to get a new book. Can also be found on Twitter for additional book tempting.
C aka @TheMiddleshelf1 fell into sci-fi and fantasy at 13 and has been hopelessly addicted since. The creation of web provided the means to talk and share about that with actual people when it appeared so C can be found nowadays at www.themiddleshelf.org
Adri aka @AdriJjy is a semi-aquatic mammal currently living in the UK, where she divides her spare time between reading, interacting with dogs and making resolutions about doing more baking. She is a co-editor at 3x Hugo nominated fanzine Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together.
Jane aka @pipsytip is a book blogger and podcaster at www.dumpylittleunicorn.co.uk who has found herself living in the depths of South East London. She loves science fiction and fantasy and blurred genres in between.
Imyril aka @imyril has been reading for almost as long as she’s been walking (with fewer obvious bruises). She shares her FEELINGS and other opinions about fantasy, sci-fi and speculative fiction at There’s Always Room For One More.
We are coming to the end of another year and there so many books we loved. Some we got to review, some we did not. As such here is a round-up the top books we read in 2019:
Adult Novels & Novellas
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
A brilliant exploration of European colonialism through the lens of an alien invasion. Dark and multi-layered read that is thoroughly rewarding.
All City by Alex DiFrancesco
A far too overlooked debut novel from this year, exploring what happens when a superstorm hits New York. DiFrancesco has a great gift for character and I will watch their career with much interest going forward.
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
From one of the most overlooked to one of the most acclaimed books of 2019. A truly beautiful novel that has so much depth and emotion written to its pages.
Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys
Winter Tide was my favourite book of 2017 and so I was both excited and trepidatious about a follow-up. Moving the action to post-war New York allows for an in-depth exploration of immigrant life in America and shows why Emrys is one of the most skilled writers in the field today.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez
An absolutely amazing story of black queer vampires from slavery to the future allowing us to see an intersectional history of America whilst also being a beautiful character piece.
The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
I started reading this on the plane journey back from WorldCon and I literally could not put it down until I finished it. Tense, awe inspiring and just a real work of genius.
The Last Supper Before Ragnarok by Cassandra Khaw
The final instalment in the great Rupert Wong series, our favourite cannibal chef. This expands the story to America and takes on Lovecraftian deities. An exquisite finish.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
A worthy winner of the Hugo Awards, an alternative history of the space programme where Washington DC is wiped out and the Earth must be evacuated, so it is up to women scientists and pilots to get the job done.
The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
A brilliant work of epic fantasy and bildungsroman based around the history of China. What I found most impressive is that Rin is allowed to make poor decisions and we can understand why she does these things which have such disastrous consequences.
Shadowplay by Laura Lam
The second instalment of the Micah Grey trilogy, which is just as captivating as the first. Funny, tearful and exciting.
The Fairy’s Tale by F D Lee
This book is massively underrated. It’s the literary equivalent of a painting which appears twee and cute on first glance but, the more you look, the more you see the creepy faces and vines covered in blood and thorns.
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
A great look at the time travel genre in an innovative way with a real focus on relationships. An overlooked gem.
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa (trans.by Stephen Snyder)
A haunting work of science fiction in translation which takes the over-worn dystopian genre and gives it a new twist looking at the power of memory and how we imbue objects with meaning.
Doctor Who: Set Piece by Kate Orman
I have been rereading the Virgin Doctor Who novels in order and I found new appreciation for this one. Tying off Ace’s journey and pulling in elements from the books and TV series since Dragonfire to create a joyful parting where we see the characters and series grow up.
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
I read this on the grounds that it was Eurovision in space, and whilst this is that, it is so much more. As well as a smorgasbord of imagination it is also a beautiful tale of the value of vulnerability and emotional honesty.
Sabrina The Teenage Witch Vol 1, Written by Kelly Thompson, Art by Veronica Fish, Colouring by Andy Fish, Lettering by Jack Morelli
Kelly Thompson is one of our favourite comic book writers today and to find her doing a Sabrina series was a must-read. This does not disappoint, mixing her trademark humour with a real understanding of people and reverence for character’s history. Plus supported by excellent artwork from the rest of the team.
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
I admit I had not heard of this until the Hugo Awards nominations, but it is truly an amazing work combining beautiful art and a tale of great relationships.
Short Fiction Collections
How Long ’til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin
Jemisin is rightly considered one of the best writers in the world right now and it is only proper she got her short fiction finally collected to showcase her talents in this medium.
No Man of Woman Born by Ana Mardoll
A brilliant collection of short fantasy stories being used to explore trans and non-binary gender identities.
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, Ed. by Nisi Shawl
Nisi Shawl has put together a collection of some of the most talented people in the speculative fiction field to write great tales, all of which I am sure will continued to be discussed for years to come.
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
An absolutely incredible writer of short fiction collection some her best short stories here. An excellent way to discover her work.
Young Adult & Middle Grade Novels
Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari
A dystopia with family, love and neurodiversity right at the centre. It’s aimed at a preteen audience but doesn’t shy away from themes akin to 1984 and The Hunger Games.
Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
The start of a science fictional take on the Arthurian myths which is fun, smart and filled with great action. The second part is scheduled to come out in 2020 and I can’t wait.
Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
A series I had been hearing about for the last few years and so glad I finally read it. Manages a beautiful balancing act between teenage superheroics, warm and fuzzy relationships and dark social commentary.
A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
A story about family, secrets, politics and Hindu mythology, all set in space. The story is emotive, enthralling and surprising.
So that is a wrap for 2019. Hope you all have a happy new year and 2020 brings you many great books!
It’s been a while since I last added a review, and my apologies for that. Many things have got in the way of reading- I’ve been on the same few books for the last couple of months. I managed to clear some of my TBR this month, so hopefully there will be more reviews to come.
I’m starting with this one because, well, it blew me away. Brahmachari takes us into a future where a massive catastrophe, Hurricane Chronos, has wiped out most of the natural world, leaving the government to find new ways to grow flowers and food.
Nabil is raising two children- Themba (pronounced ‘Temba’), his son with his late wife, and Shifa, the abandoned child he found on the night of the Hurricane. When they reach their eleventh birthday, they are sent to Freedom Fields: a special school created after the Hurricane. Children spend their time at a boarding school which also includes learning to cultivate vegetation to feed the country. However, when Shifa and Themba arrive, they discover this school and the schemes behind it are far more sinister than they were originally led to believe. It then becomes a race against time for Shifa and Themba to get back to their father and reveal the truth.
The story is told from the perspective of Shifa, who is not only dealing with the upheaval of her life into a terrible labour camp, but also the separation from her dear feline companion, Daisy, and the revelation that she isn’t related to Nabil or Themba by blood. Her desire for justice and love for the family she’s always known drives her through peril and hardship.
As I said, this book blew me away. Brahmachari doesn’t shy away from so many issues which affect our modern day society: slavery, propaganda, class warfare, climate change, even the refugee crisis. This book is aimed for preteens and young adult, and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. The parallels are clear and unashamedly poignant, which is both bold and also necessary. Another thing I found really refreshing is that Themba is neurodiverse and it’s done with grace and respect. Ir’s evident in her writing that Sita Brahmachari has done a lot of research into the varying components of her work to make the allegory come to life.
The style of writing is beautiful and expressive. I found myself fully absorbed in the text and doing the whole “aaah, just one more chapter”, which is something I have found harder to do as I’ve got older. The only thing I would point out as a negative is there is a cliffhanger towards the end which doesn’t get resolved, almost as though someone ripped out a couple of pages.
Additionally, the final conclusions, I felt, were a bit rushed. I would have liked to have heard more about how the end point was reached, but a lot of it happened off page. As a preteen reader, I would be happy with that, I think, so I’m not going to fault that too much. We still found out what happened and it was well written.
All in all, I recommend this book- it’s a very easy read which still dives into deep issues. The target demographic is approximately 9-12 but I’m 31 and enjoyed it.