- Science fiction (Children's / Teenage)
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- United States
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An Interesting Dystopian Story with Potential
:: Spoiler Alert ::
I rarely read books set in Australia, so I was very glad that Children of the Different is set there. Moreover, it was refreshing to read a dystopian novel set in an existing country other than the USA (or being based on that). The mentioning of gum trees and the like constructed a scenery of Australia that was nice to read about.
In addition, the inclusion of mobile phones, computers and other technical innovations that are rarely featured in dystopian novels (at least the ones I have read) worked well. The mentioning of Perth and how it used to be, e.g. referring to modern-day Perth, made the impact of the Great Madness even more visible. As I have never been to the city myself I cannot really say if you would recognize outstanding features of the city, but I can very well imagine that to be the case.
We immediately get introduced to the two protagonists of the story, the twins Arika and Narrah. Gradually, their world is revealed, and with it the hard life that they live. However, I had difficulties getting close to any of the characters. While I do not specifically dislike Arika and Narrah, I do not find them really likeable either. Toura and Zehra were the two characters I found most interesting, because they are mysterious and even though not much is revealed about their past, they are still well-rounded off. They are two strong female characters who take their faith in their own hands and try to save their people and friends. Zehra slightly fell out of favour when she forced Arika to come with them, but I believe she had good reason for her actions and in the end made up for that, too.
The first half of the novel proceeded rather slowly. It could not grip and captivate me like I hoped it would. Luckily, this changed in the second half, once Narrah reached Perth and Arika met the Hermits. The story took up speed and I forgot the time while reading, as I wanted to know what happens next and even got more involved in the characters. Therefore, I believe the lack of interacting characters in the beginning did not do the story a favour. I am aware that it takes time to establish them, but Arika and Narrah were not able to carry the story on their own. They stayed more one-dimensional and their full potential was not exploited. The plot needed more people to bring it forward, just like the twins needed help from others on their missions to find each other and a cure for the Great Madness.
What I could still not get into was the Changeland. At first, I thought the whole story would be set in there and was glad to read about Arika and Narrah both coming out of it more or less unharmed. In my eyes, the Changeland did not bring the story any further and was uninteresting to read about. While the idea is good, its implementing lacked tension and a twist. The Anteater was a bit ludicrous to me and the Ferals were much more of a threat to the characters. They reminded me of zombies, such as the walkers in The Walking Dead, which I enjoyed.
Children of the Different is an enjoyable dystopian story with a nice setting. While the first half drags along rather slowly, the second half is much more entertaining and thrilling. There is definitely room for further sequels and exploration of the characters.
Dystopian adventure with great characters
It is nineteen years since a deadly brain disease called “the Great Madness” wiped out the majority of the world’s population. The human race is clinging on to what remains of life, living in sparse settlements dotted around the world, barely surviving. Inexplicably, the children of the survivors begin slipping into a trance at the onset of adolescence. This coma-like state is known as “the Changing.” In this altered state, the child experiences a challenging rite of passage as they journey through the dream-like “Changeland”. When they emerge from the Changing, they either display some kind of preternatural mental power or turn into “cannibalistic Ferals”.
This dystopian tale set in south-western Australia tells the story of twin teenage siblings Arika and her brother Narrah. At the beginning of the book, Arika has just entered her Changing; Narrah has yet to experience his. During her trance, Arika encounters a malevolent “echidna” (had to look that up!) known as “the Anteater”. This creature appears to have the ability to control and shape the landscape of the Changing, and it quickly targets Arika.
Children of the Different is an impressive debut by the author S. C. Flynn. I've read and enjoyed good YA books before, and this one reminded me of Chris Beckett's excellent Dark Eden. I loved the rural Australian setting, especially the Dreamtime-esque “Changeland”. There are some well-realised reality-bending scenes that take place there. The landscape often morphs and reforms into something else; depending on the actions of the character currently interacting with it. The teenage twins are interesting characters that grow with the story, especially as they try to come to terms with their emerging abilities. Some of my favourite scenes involve Arika discovering her new powers and using them.
“She sniffed the air, sticking out her tongue as she did so. Why am I doing that? She wondered for an instant, and then she didn’t care anymore. That was what she did when she sniffed: she tasted the air. Of course she did. It tasted of lots of warm-blooded creatures nearby. [...] Her own blood was cool and slow and getting colder and slower all the time.” (Loc 1029)
At times, the mood of the story is fairly bleak and disturbing, particularly when the author is describing the remains of civilization and the cities they used to inhabit. This crosses over into some of the sequences set in the Changing. In one scene early on in the tale, Narrah is lost in a tunnel during one of his trances. He finds himself stepping over the dead bodies of men, women and children who appear to have died in some kind of “frenzy”, no doubt due to the Great Madness. It is a dark and frightening scene, yet I enjoyed this darkness and felt it to be an essential part of the book, helping to enhance the atmosphere.
The author contrasts these darker scenes with the brightness inherent in the relationships between the teenage characters. There is an innocence and purity to the twins deep caring for one another. This can also be seen in their interactions with some of the supporting characters, as well as with the surrounding flora and fauna. The only criticism I have is with the villain. It didn’t feel threatening enough, particularly in the first half of the book. But that is just my opinion.
Overall this was an entertaining read with solid characters, a really good setting, and some nice twists to the plot. Recommended!
Refreshing take on dystopia
This post-apocalyptic tale is set in Western Australia. 19 years ago, the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. Now when children enter their adolescence, they go into a trance-like state, entering the Changeland, and may come out of it fairly normal or a bit deranged and prone to cannibalism. Arika and her twin brother Narrah are at that age and their adventures in the Changeland will alter them, and perhaps their small society, forever.
This tale was just a bit different from anything else I have read recently. First, I loved the setting and all the Australian animals that come into play throughout the tale. There’s even stromatolites! From dense forest to dry desert to cityscape to ocean-side village – this story covers a lot of ground. Then we have the Changeland, a place that can only be entered by your spirit through a trance-like state. Everything is warped in the Changeland. Sometimes a person sees images of cities healthy and whole before the Great Madness and sometimes a persons sees things as a they are now, but far, far from where they live. For both Arika and Narrah, they each run into the Anteater, which is like our Coyote trickster of the desert southwest here in the states. His motives aren’t clear until the end of the story, but he uses both charm and threats to set things in motion.
While Arika in undergoing her Change, her brother is out of the village when he comes across Weiran, who used to be part of the village before he went a bit feral after his own Change. Narrah ends up captured by a group of city people and hauled away. Once Arika comes back to reality, she insists on going after him but she has to sneak away to do so. Turah, another childhood friend who now has strange prophetic abilities, goes with her. Both Arika and Narrah will have some harrowing experiences before they are reunited. Once they do, there is the task of taking one of the few remaining military bases in the area! The plot kept me guessing the entire time. There’s a little Mad Max action too when folks take some of the few remaining functional vehicles on the last jog of the story.
This was an exciting story. At times, it was beautiful and strange, and at other times I was biting my nails in anticipation of what would happen to our heroes. The Changeland is an eerie, unpredictable place and adds an unexpected dimension to this post-apocalyptic tale. S. C. Flynn is an author to keep an eye on and see what he comes up with next.
I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review.
The Narration: Stephen Briggs was a great choice for this tale. I loved his Australian accent he did for all the characters (except for the 1 or 2 minor characters who weren’t Australian). He also had this great gritty voice for this character Bowman who doesn’t show up until the second half of the story. Sometimes the volume did wiggle up and down a bit, but not so much I had to turn the volume down or risk ear damage. Over all, a great performance.