Heroes, Villains and ThylacinesJune 9th, 2011 at 22:58
The Shattering, by Karen Healey
Thyla, by Kate Gordon
Will Supervillains Be On The Final? Vol. One, by Naomi Novik & Yishan Li
I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I want to lately, but I have made some great YA discoveries.
Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey, was one of the most interesting YA debut novels last year, with its mixture of serial killer horror and Maori mythology, featuring contemporary New Zealand teenagers with both snark and substance. I was delighted to receive an early copy of Karen Healey’s follow up novel, The Shattering – so much so that I took it as my in flight entertainment for the Aurealis Awards weekend, at which Guardian of the Dead ended up winning Best Novel!
Set in an idyllic New Zealand tourist town, this book has a very simple premise at the heart of it – teenagers uncovering supernatural wrongdoings – but it becomes something far more crunchy and intriguing thanks to the complex, diverse protagonists and Healey’s sensitive handling of some pretty major issues, including teen suicide, grief response, mental health, bullying and coming out to your parents. The absolute heart of the novel is the friendship between the three main characters, who all bond over the shared grief of losing an elder brother to suicide, and decide to investigate whether there is a more sinister reason behind their loss. I loved each of these characters deeply and enjoyed how flawed they are as well as how strong. I also *adored* the fact that, while there is romance here, the novel took a very pragmatic attitude towards teenage love stories, and that the central triad (two girls and a boy) was about as far from a love triangle as it is possible to get.
Original, fast paced and richly detailed, The Shattering is a powerful second novel from a writer whose narrative choices are never dull.
Thyla by Kate Gordon is also a second novel, though Kate Gordon’s debut was a straight teen friendship story, without spec fic elements. This one, however, is paranormal all the way, and interesting to me for several reasons: Kate is a local writer friend, and this story is set in and around areas of Hobart I know very well.
Also… paranormal YA with werethylacines? How could anyone resist?
One of the things I liked most about this book is the way it played with the idea of a truly unreliable narrator. This is a technique I love, which was handled especially well in Holly Black’s White Cat last year. In this case, the heroine is a lost girl found in the wilds of Tasmania (our wilds get pretty wild, and some of them are not that far from suburbia) with most of her memory missing. She knows her name is Tess, but very little else, and she clings to Connolly, the police woman who found her, and is nursing her own hurt about a daughter who was lost in the same area of bush where Tess was found.
Narrated with lyrical ease, another element of the story is that it is told for the most part in second person, Tess fixating upon the largely absent figure of Connolly as she describes to her what happened after Tess arrived at the boarding school where she is to be housed until the police figure out more about who she is, and where she comes from. There’s a gothic sensibility to the story as Tess literally takes the place of the missing-presumed-dead girl Cat Connolly, taking over her bed and roommate, and soon begins to suspect that there was rather more to Cat’s disappearance than a bushwalk gone wrong.
She and the reader both start to realise, piece by piece, that Tess doesn’t fit into this world, and the confusion she has about Aussie slang and culture might actually have nothing at all to do with her memory loss…
Fair warning that this is the first part of what I believe is a duology, though I felt this volume answered enough of the mystery to be satisfying for now… as long as Vulpi comes out soon! This highly original revamp of common paranormal tropes blends with the historical urban myths of Hobart Town and a snappy contemporary style to make a story which is part Tasmanian Gothic, part Picnic at Hanging Rock, part Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Naomi Novik has moved into whole new territory with her recent release, Will Supervillains Be on the Final Vol. One. Far from the Napoleonic dragon bromance of Temeraire and his many sequels, this is the first in an American manga series that I really enjoyed. It has the fluffy romance of a Fruits Basket, mixed with a whole lot of US superhero traditions, and is beautifully drawn by Yishan Li.
This first volume introduces nervous student prodigy Leah, who has been allowed into superhero university Liberty Vocational a couple of years early because her immense powers are greatly needed in the war against supervillainy.
There’s a whole world lightly sketched here, with hints of far bigger stories in the past and the future. I’m particularly intrigued by the background character of Calvin Washington, once the greatest superhero ever, now a quiet professor who has lost his powers. I also genuinely enjoyed the classroom challenges, and the left-of-centre lessons being thrown at the students. As a sucker for magical school stories, and someone who has been hanging out for a new fluffy manga to fall in love with, I’m signing up for this one!
The only down side is I’m not sure of when the next one is coming out, and whether there is a regular schedule planned or if they’re just putting out one to see how well they sell. Wahhh!