Song of the Slums, by Richard Harland

‘I can’t do this,’ she whispered to Verrol. ‘They’re not even proper drumsticks.’
‘You can. You have to.’ His handsome features were drawn and taut.
Astor took her seat on the upturned box, and stared at the kegs, cans and pots before her. It was impossible. She had never played percussion in her life. But clearly Verrol thought this was their only chance to join the gang.

Once she had the hang of the drums, she began to experiment with the timbre of different pots and pans. But there was something missing.
‘Put more energy into it. Harder! Stronger!’ Verrol was almost pleading. ‘Play for your life!’

17-yearold Astor isn’t exactly delighted that her step father has arranged a marriage for her, but at least a marriage of convenience offers her a way out of her unhappy home life. The trouble is, it isn’t a marriage she’s been signed up for, but a place as a governess to three obnoxious, unteachable children. Tricked by her stepfather and abandoned by her mother, Astor has no one on her side except for Verrol, the servant assigned to her. She will have to make do until she can figure a way to a better life.

Astor has no idea that her life can get worse, but she finds herself fleeing her new home with Verrol, and fighting for survival on the streets, where her music training may be the only thing that keeps her alive.

Song of the Slums is a fabulous fantasy novel from the creator of Worldshaker and Liberator. Set in the same alternative Victorian World which will be comfortably familiar to steampunk fans, though billed as ‘gaslight romance’, the story is filled with action, twists and turns, and a plot line which shows that good can triumph. Astor’s growth as a character endears her to the reader, and the supporting cast is strong.

Great for fans of steampunk, fantasy and simply great reads.


Song of the Slums

Song of the Slums, by Richard Harland
Allen & Unwin, 2013
ISBN 9781743310052

Available from good bookstores or online.

Liberator, by Richard Harland

Once, Col and Riff worked side by side as they lead the revolution which saw the Filthies liberated. Now, though, it seems they hardly see each other. A saboteur on board the juggernaut is causing suspicion and hatred and the Filthies have turned on the remaining Swanks. Col has cause to wonder if he and Riff can ever be partnered, but worse, it seems the Swanks are not safe on board the Liberator…

Something bad had happened on First Deck. The news travelled the length and breadth of the iron juggernaut: from the storage decks to the old Imperial Staterooms, from the coal bunkers on Bottom Deck to the Bridge on Fifty-Fourth Deck. The saboteur had struck again, and the Revolutionary Council had called a general meeting of Filthies in the Grand Assembly Hall.

Once, Col and Riff worked side by side as they lead the revolution which saw the Filthies liberated. Now, though, it seems they hardly see each other. A saboteur on board the juggernaut is causing suspicion and hatred and the Filthies have turned on the remaining Swanks. Col has cause to wonder if he and Riff can ever be partnered, but worse, it seems the Swanks are not safe on board the Liberator. Then, when other juggernauts hear of the revolution, it seems their relationship is the least of their problems.

Liberator is the terrific steam-punk sequel to Worldshaker and will delight teen readers, regardless of whether they’ve read the first. There is action, humour and plenty of intrigue, as characters new and old develop and change.

Lovers of history will enjoy seeing the similarities and differences with real world places and events, with the English passengers of the Liberator (once known as the Worldshaker) visiting the colony of Botany Bay, and battling with juggernauts from Russia, Austria, Turkey and France.

Finely crafted, this is an offering which demands to be read.


Liberator, by Richard Harland
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 978174237342

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Worldshaker, by Richard Harland

But Lumbridge lunged for Col again. Taken by surprise, Col took a backward step. His foot hung over empty space – the open manhole!
He tried to grip onto Lumbridge, who staggered. For one second, he stared into Lumbridge’s small, piggy eyes and nostrils trickling blood. He never knew what went on in that second behind those eyes. Was it deliberate or accidental?
Both of Col’s feet now hung over empty space. Lumbridge raised his arms, broke Col’s grip and dropped him down into the hole.

Colbert (Col) has led a sheltered existence. At sixteen years of age he has been cafeully groomed and trained to believe the tales his grandfather tells him about the way society operates. Aboard the huge juggernaut Worldshaker, Col and his family hold privileged positions. Grandfather Sir Mormus is the Supreme Commander, and he has just anointed Col as his successor. Col has no reason to question anything.

But when Col meets a ‘Filthy’ – a girl from the lowest class hidden way beneath decks – he starts to realise that not all is as it appears. Long lead to believe that Filthies are subhuman beings, he realises that they are, instead, very human, and badly mistreated by Col’s people. He also realise that the version of history on which their society is based is also a lie. As he starts to wonder who and what he can trust, Col’s privileged position becomes shaky and he must choose between the life he has had and what he starts to believe might be a better life for all.

Worldshaker is a gripping fantasy, set in a reality which is at once familiar and alien. Worldshaker is a juggernaut which travels the world with its cargo of escapees from a world torn apart by war. The upper classes are determined to maintain their privileged position and there is a very rigid social structure which is accepted as important to the survival of all. Col’s position high within that structure makes him an unlikely candidate to be involved in its overthrow, and the friendship that leads him to this point is riddled with humour and tension, as he comes to understand the ways of the filthies and learn from them.

Likely to appeal to readers aged 13 and over, this is a real page turner.


Worldshaker, by Richard Harland
Allen & Unwin, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Wolf Kingdom Books 1-4, by Richard Harland

All afternoon, Tam and Nina had been gathering firewood in the forest. They had dug so often into the snow that their fingers were numb, but at least their sacks were full. It was dark by the time they arrived home.
Every window was bright with candlelight, and long yellow patches fell across the snowy back garden.
Tam scratched his head. ‘Looks like a celebration.’
‘Don’t be silly. His sister snorted impatiently. ‘Nobody’s birthday.’
Still, the brightness of the house lifted their spirits. They picked up their pace and marched towards the back door.
Then they saw the paw prints.

Eleven year-old Tam and his twelve year-old sister Nina return from a day’s wood collecting to find the wolves holding their parents captive. They escape into the woods, searching for the legendary ‘Freefolk’ the only people able to fight against a cruel walking, talking ruling class of wolves. With the help of the Freefolk, the siblings hope they will be able to find and free their parents. By the end of the first adventure, they have both learned a great deal about surviving in the wild. They have also found a magic belt. Each of the following three stories includes a new adventure, and a new search for their parents. There is also a new magic element to be discovered. The books build to a climax in the fourth story when all their magic elements, skills and ingenuity are required as they take their search and their battle inside the Wolf-King’s Iron Castle.

Richard Harland effortlessly constructs a fantasy world for the Wolf Kingdom series despite each of the four titles being only around 80 pages. Each chapter includes a (mostly) full-page illustration from Laura Peterson, allowing the reader a good sense of the world and its occupants. Although obviously constructed as a series from the inception, with an overarching storyline, each book has its own satisfying story arc. Harland’s brief revisiting of the ‘story so far is’ seamlessly imbedded in the first few pages of the subsequent books. The adventures move swiftly through the complications, and the main characters grow until they earn the respect of all around them. This series, with both boy and girl main characters should attract a wide readership. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Wolf Kingdom series, Richard Harland Omnibus Books 2008

Book One: Wolf Kindom: Escape ISBN: 9781862917002
Book Two: Wolf Kingdom: Under Siege ISBN: 9781862917019
Book Three: Wolf Kingdom: Race to the Ruins ISBN: 9781862917026
Book Four: Wolf Kingdom: The Heavy Crown ISBN: 9781862917033

Sassycat, by Richard Harland

Sassycat is very smart and very strokable, but when her family moves house she isn’t happy. This home has some strange vibes, and the other animals in the neighbourhood aren’t very welcoming. She is warned off exploring around her home and is intrigued by the rules the other animals make. Why can’t she cross the creek or visit the other cat that lives in the cemetery?

Meantime Sassycat’s family are in turmoil themselves, especially Rebecca, who usually looks after Sassy. Rebecca is troubled by disturbing nightmares and her mother seems unable to help her. Fortunately for Rebecca, Sassycat is a confident and clever cat, who is determined to help her and the whole neighbourhood.

Sassycat is a divine fantasy/animal adventure. Told through the eyes of the cat, the story is a mixture of horror and humour, as Sassy and her animal friends take on some frightening spectres which are looking for some new bodies to inhabit. Author Richard Harland is surely a cat lover, with the reader almost able to forget that cats can’t talk, lost in the authenticity of Sassycat’s vanity, poise and egocentricity.

A must read for ages 10 and up, especially for cat lovers.

Sassycat, by Richard Harland
Omnibus, 2005