Mechanica: a Beginner's Field Guide, by Lance Balchin

It is hard to believe now, but there was a time when the Earth was bountiful. Its seas teemed with marine life, there was an abundance of vegetation and wildlife on the land, and the ozone contained a perfect balance of natural chemical reactions.

In the late twenty-second century the Earth is very different than it once was. With the actions of human kind having changed the face of the Earth and the balance of nature, in particular the loss of insects and birds. In response to this, mechapets were created, elaborate machines which replicated the beauty and action of the living beings. Unfortunately, drone armies formerly used to fight wars have gone rogue and bred with the mechapets to produce mechanica, complex but problematic machine-beasts.

Liberty Crisp has long been fascinated with mechanica, having grown up with the opportunity to study them at the side of her scientist parents, and her tutor, Reginald P. Prescott, also an expert. When Liberty and Reginald have to flee their home of Sarawsati, they travel the world studying and documenting the mechanica.

Mechanica, subtitled a beginners field guide is an illustrated guide tot he mechanical beasts which inhabit this imagined future Earth, including detailed pictures, vital statistics and field notes, as well as an introduction (entitled A Brief History) and an Addendum which will leave the reader thinking about what might happen next.

this futuristic steampunk offering is in the form of a large hardcover picturebook and will appeal to middle and upper primary aged readers through to adults who will enjoy the fine art and the cleverness of the concept.

Mechanica, by Lance Balchin
Five Mile Press, 2016
ISBN 9781760401085

The Natural Way of Things, by Charlotte Wood

9781760111236.jpgShe hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, ‘I need to know where I am.’ The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, ‘Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.’

Verla and Yolanda are among ten young women who wake up from a drugged sleep not knowing where they are or why they are there. But as the day unfolds, so too does their terrible situation become clearer. They are in a prison unlike no other: in abandoned buildings on an unknown remote piece of land, surrounded by electrified fences. There is no escape, and their jailers are two men with no compassion and not much idea what they are doing. Their heads shaved, their clothes taken away and replaced with ugly, itchy uniforms, the women are to perform hard labour in a regime which is supposedly intended to reform them. Their crime? Each woman has been part of a sexual scandal with a powerful man – though these relationships were, for the most, not consensual.

The Natural Way of Things is an uncomfortable book, dealing with often shocking events playing out as part of a terrible, unfathomable injustice. But it is this discomfort which makes the book so brilliant. The readers is taken on an emotional journey through a raft of emotions including despair, denial, anger, hope and more. The characters, particularly Verla and Yolanda, are intriguing, and their developing relationships fascinating.

Exploring misogyny, corporate control, this dystopian novel is a must read for women and for men.

The Natural Way of Things
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111236

Lifespan of Starlight, by Thalia Kalkipsakis

Every gram of courage that I possess is going to be barely enough to make me step off the curb. An intake of air and I bail out, my toes gripping the soles of my boots for all I’m worth and the rest of me teetering over the edge. A car flashes past and I jump back. That was close.

Scout has to live her life unseen. She is an illegal, with no chip, hidden by her mother since birth. But neither her nor her mum want it to stay this way, so when she has a chance to take a chip, she does. Little does she know that the owner of the chip had a skill like no other: the ability to time travel. She finds herself sought out by two other teens to want to know how to time travel. Soon the three are experimenting with something both exhilarating and dangerous.

Lifespan of Starlight is a gripping dystopian novel for young adult readers, set in a future where identity and activities are closely monitored and controlled. Scout is smart and resourceful, but she isn’t perfect, which makes her all the more believable. Kalkipsakis’ version of time travel is very different from other time-travel stories, an originality which young readers will enjoy.

The first in a trilogy Lifespan of Starlight will appeal to young teen readers.

Lifespan of Starlight, by Thalia Kalkipsakis
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2015
ISBN 9781742978710

Available from good bookstores and online.

A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay

First the fingertips and then the hand. Choose your angle wisely, girl; there’s no forgiveness in bone. Rotate the shoulder, let the head and hips follow … there.

The Mothers’ words echoed in Jena’s mind as she eased into the crevice, flattening herself against the rock. When she was through, she paused, waiting for the next girl. They were deep now, in the heart of the mountain. Around her, the earth pressed so tightly it was hard to tell where her body ended and the stone began.

Every girls dreams of being part of the line, the seven young girls chosen to crawl deep into the mountain to collect the precious mica which will ensure the village’s survival. Jena is the leader fo the line, and believes passionately in all the Mothers tell her. She doesn’t question, doesn’t doubt. Until a baby is born early, a girl dies and a single, impossible stone is found. These three seemingly separate incidents make Jena question all that she has believed, and bring back memories of losing her parents. COuld it be that all she has believed is wrong?

A Single Stone  is a  disarming yet beautiful novel set in a dystopian world. Jena’s village has been cut off from the outside world by a massive rockfall following an unnamed disaster which has also affected the world beyond their valley. With no way out, and no help from outside, the villagers have adapted to their isolation and to the vagaries of cold and lack of resources through evolving a society where everything revolves around the need for girls to collect the mica which can generate heat through cold winters.  Girls, especially fine boned girls, are precious. Men are to blame for the rockfall, and so lesser, and boy children undesirable, except to ensure the conception of more girls.

Jena is a strong lead character, who comes to question her own determination to do the work she was raised to do. McKinlay’s writing is superb: thoughtful, deliberate and breathtaking. Readers will feel squeezed by the mountain, shocked along with Jena at the discoveries she makes, and warmed by the hope of the resolution.

Wonderful.

A Single Stone, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2015
ISBN 9781925081701

Available from good bookstores and online.

State of Grace, by Hilary Badger

‘Actually, no,’ I say. ‘As you can see, I’m about to go horseriding.’
I smile then, even though I Haven’t said anything particularly funny. Seriously, it doesn’t take much to make me smile. That’s how I am. Laughing, joking, having fun – it’s how Dot created me. It’s how she created all of us.
Except, of course, Blaze.

Wren and her rescinds live in a garden where everything is perfect. Nothing exists outside of the garden – except Dot, who created the people, plants and animals which fill the utopia. But as completion night draws nearer, Wren is troubled by strange visions of  people and places outside of  the garden, visions that feel like memories, even though she knows they can’t be. The gorgeous Blaze seems to have similar visions, but this worries Wren even more. If they are not Dotly enough, neither of them might be chosen on completion night. As she starts to question what s happening, Wren feels herself being pulled further away from Dot.

State of Grace is an eerie book. From a cover featuring a girl with surreal green eyes, to an Eden-like existence and on to the cracks which appear in this life, the reader experiences a growing sense of discomfort at the world which Wren and her friends inhabit, and as Wren unravels the truth, the reader journeys with her. The use of a special vocabulary for this world is a clever tool, adding the sense of this place being elsewhere. The reality, when it is revealed, is shocking.

An intriguing read for teens.

 

State of Grace

State of Grace, by Hilary Badger
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2014
ISBN 9781760120382

Available from good bookstores and online.

Pandora Jones: Admission, by Barry Jonsberg

It took slightly under eight hours for Melbourne to die.
When Pandora Jones thought back to that day – something she did often – there were large holes in her memory. She definitely remembered sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and listening to the news on the radio, her mother bustling about and packing lunch for her brother Danny.

On what begins as a fairly normal day, Pandora Jones witnesses horrific scenes of death as first a relief teacher, then everyone around her starts to cough, collapse and die. As if in a terrible nightmare, Pandora heads for home, only to witness the death of her family to the inexplicable pandemic that is wiping out much out of humanity. When she wakes up in hospital, her recollection of what has happened is vague, but finds herself one of a small group of survivors, relocated to a facility called The School. There she is trained for survival in the world as it now is. But there are secrets and contradictions, and Pan doesn’t know who to trust or what to believe.

Pandora Jones: Admission is the first instalment in a new post-apocalyptic series for teen readers, offering an absorbing blend of action, mystery and character development. While lots of questions arise, not all of them are answered, leaving lots of room for the rest of the series to do so.

Pan is an interesting viewpoint character, with a mix of strengths and failings which make her believable. Her supporting cast is also diverse, and relationships change over the course of events allowing characters to develop and readers to connect.

With two more titles to come, teen readers will be keen to follow the series.

 

Pandora Jones - Admission

Pandora Jones: Admission, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743318119

Available from good bookstores and online.

Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix


Shade’s secret home was a submarine. Soon after the Change it had come away from its mooring and drifted between two old, long, wooden finger wharves…Shade’s children came and went via a torpedo tube in the bow, safely out of sight under the wharf. They could then wade between the piles up to a storm-water tunnel that led into the city’s network of drains.

Fifteen years after a dramatic ‘Change’ the world is populated only by evil creatures and children under the age of fourteen. All the adults have disappeared, vanishing without trace on the morning of the Change, and the children have been herded into dormitories where they are raised until the age of fourteen, when they are taken for body parts. Overlords rule various horrible beasts, crafted from these body parts, which fight in the battles over which the overlords preside. Human beings have no place in the world outside the dormitories.

But living hidden in the city are the few children who have managed to avoid or escape capture. They are Shade’s children, and it is Shade, a computer memory of a man, who looks after them until such time as the change can be reversed. But could Shade be an enemy too?

Shade’s Children is a dark fantasy, set in an unimaginably desperate future where creatures from a parallel world have taken over and where teenagers are the only ones able to resist their dark forces. The central characters are four such teens, two boys and two girls, each with their own special gift, and each coping with the daily horrors of their lives in different ways, yet all also very strong in their desire for a better world.

This is a book which is disturbingly compelling. The young characters are faced with death and violence on a daily basis and must learn to accept it without being so immune that they become inhuman. Young readers must also look past the violence to the positive portrayal of strength and selflessness which sees the young characters working not just for their own survival, but for the restoration of the human race.

An absorbing read.

Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
First Published in 1997, this new edition Allen & Unwin, 2012

Equinox, by Lara Morgan

Exposing Helios Corporation’s evil should have meant for a change in fortune for Rosie Black. Her Dad is back, and she and her Aunt Essie are safe. But it isn’t as simple as that.

“Helios will leave them alone now. It’s me they want. But you know what this means. If they know I’m alive it means you and Essie aren’t safe any more either.” Riley gave her a significant look.
“Wait, hang on.” She got to her feet. She knew where this was going. “I am not going into hiding,” she said. “No way.”

Exposing Helios Corporation’s evil should have meant for a change in fortune for Rosie Black. Her Dad is back, and she and her Aunt Essie are safe. But it isn’t as simple as that. Helios is still around – just pushed further underground – and Dad is stuck in hospital, where he’ll possibly never leave. Her friend Pip has disappeared, and Riley is keeping things from her. Rosie is going to have to use all her wits – and put her life on the line – to destroy Helios once and for all.

Equinox is the second title in the gripping Rosie Black Chronicles, set five hundred years in the future in Newperth. This dystopian tale picks up not long after the first left off, with familiar characters reuniting and aided by new additions. There is also an increase in the development of the characters – with Rosie showing extra layers of vulnerability against her gritty determination, and her relationships also developing.

Best read as a sequel, Equinox will appeal to teen lovers of speculative fiction.

Equinox (Rosie Black Chronicles)

Equinox (Rosie Black Chronicles), by Lara Morgan
Walker Books, 2011
ISBN 9781921529405

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.