AWW2017: Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin

25255605Tulliæn spans a fractured mountaintop, where the locals lie and the tourists come to die. Try the honey.

Briskwater crouches deep in the shadow of a dam wall. Ignore the weight of the water hanging overhead, and the little dead girl wandering the streets. Off with you, while you still can.

In Haverny Wood the birds drink blood, the dogs trade their coughings for corpses, the lost children carve up their bodies to run with the crows, and the townsfolk stitch silence into their spleens. You mustn’t talk so wild.

The desert-locked outpost of Boundary boasts the famed manufacturers of flawless timepieces; those who would learn the trade must offer up their eyes as starting materials. Look to your pride: it will eat you alive.

Sooner or later, in every community, fate demands its dues — and the currency is blood.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge and A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin is the twelfth book in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series of collections, which have focused on the work of female Australian speculative fiction authors. Individual stories in Cherry Crow Children, and the collection as a whole, have been shortlisted for Ditmar, Australian Shadows and Shirley Jackson Awards, and one story, The Miseducation of Mara Lys won two Aurealis awards in 2015, for Best Horror Novella and Best Young Adult Short Story.

The stories in this collection are not technically connected in terms of plot, place or characters, but there is a thread running through all of them: all take place in strange, haunted places, and reading them gives a feeling of walking along the edge, of sensing a discomfort at the very periphery of awareness that you can’t quite identify. All are incredibly evocative and written with a lyrical, haunting style, and all are–as all of the stories and novellas in the Twelve Planets series–of extremely high quality.

The collection opens with Wages of Honey, which is on the surface, a deceptively simply story of a man searching for his missing cousin. The strangeness seeps in as he enters the mountaintop town where his cousin was headed, a place known as Tulliæn, where death and honey are equal fascinations. Tulliæn seems a place drawn from both dream and nightmare, where bridges and streets end abruptly, and suicide almost seems to be revered and everything is soaked with honey. This is an incredibly beautiful and unsettling story, and has a vividness that won’t be forgotten by any reader any time soon.

The Briskwater Mare takes the reader into another strange place: Briskwater, where the water surrounding the town is haunted by the ghost of a young girl. The story is told through the eyes of Eli, a young girl who has always been told that one day the ghost will claim her. There is a very fairytale feel to this story–but the kind of dark fairytale that was used to warn children not to stray from the path–and a kind of inevitability that makes it impossible to look away from events, even as you wish that everything could be different.

 

 

The Miseducation of Mara Lys was, for me, the standout story of the collection, and I’m not surprised that it won two Aurealis Awards. It’s another story that can be summed up in a deceptively simple fashion: a girl, Mara Lys, wishes to gain admission to an elite school of watchmakers. Except that this is a Deborah Kalin story, and if you’ve read the first two stories in the collection, you know from the beginning that none of this story is going to be that simple. There is a dense amount of worldbuiilding in this story, and yet all of it is handled so lightly that none of it is a chore to read. Some of the details in this story absolutely blew me away (I’m not going to spoil any of it, because it would detract from their impact to know them going in) and I would pay good money to read more set in this world.

The last story in the collection is The Cherry Crow Children of Haverny Wood, from which the collection’s title derives. This brings the reader to yet another strange and unsettling place, this time a village in Haverny Wood, where the people seek to protect themselves from the things that live beyond the trees. Again, this story has the feel of a dark fairytale, and is filled with evocative and unforgettable images and ideas. Probably my second favourite of all of the stories, and another that I’d love to see more works set in.

Overall, this is another absolutely stellar collection, and it a fitting end to the original cycle of twelve volumes in the Twelve Planets (a thirteenth volume is forthcoming from Isobelle Carmody, which was added at a later date). It could be best described as literary horror, but it is a kind of horror that will hold appeal to many readers who usually shy away from the genre. There is some gore here and there, but none of it is gratuitous – think of Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf rather than a deranged serial killer stalking the innocent, and you will come somewhere close. Like all of the collections in the Twelve Planets, Cherry Crow Children is highly recommended, and is probably one of my favourites of all of the collections.

 

 

 

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AWW2017: The Female Factory by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter

In The Female Factory, procreation is big business. Children are a commodity few women can afford.

Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing.

From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 and A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


The Female Factory is the eleventh book in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press, this collection authored by frequent co-authors Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter. The Female Factory collects four short works which are unrelated in terms of plot but very much related in terms of theme.

Vox opens the collection, and is a truly chilling story. Kate, our protagonist, is somewhat obsessed with lending inanimate objects life (I particularly liked her talking to the last two Tic Tacs in her container, telling them that “all of your friends are already inside me”). Kate and her husband are also struggling with fertility issues, and she and her husband seek help from a fertility clinic. When she conceives successfully with three embryos, the two of them are forced to make a difficult choice. For many other authors, this could have been a trite story, but Hannett and Slatter give it their own, almost disturbing twist (which I absolutely will not reveal – this one is best read with no prior knowledge).  Probably the standout story in the collection for me.

Baggage also explores fertility, and takes place in a world where fertility in general has decreased, but where women exist with the ability to produce multiple ova, and with the help of medication, store them until the prospective parents are ready (or have paid enough) to have their child brought to term. Robyn is one such woman, and we follow her as she visits the father of one of these children for an assignation with shades of The Handmaid’s Tale to complete the assignment. Robyn is a fascinating and at times repulsive woman, with her attitude to the “cubs” she is carrying reflecting the horrific nature of the world she lives in.

All the Other Revivals is a story which explores gender and sexuality through the eyes of Baron, someone who does not define himself (for want of a better pronoun, but it is the one Hannett and Slatter use for Baron) as being either male or female, but rather somewhere in between. Baron finds himself drawn to a strange billabong where people can dive down to a wrecked car beneath the water, and emerge changed – in particular, we witness him watching a girl he knows, Andrea, submerging herself as a female and rising again as a male. This is a truly striking and haunting story, and one with imagery that lingers long after the words themselves have finished.

The last story in the collection, and the longest, is The Female Factory. This story has a historical setting, taking place in the Tasmanian workhouse for female convicts known as the Female Factory, and explores the lives of the women and children incarcerated there, as well as that of the Matron Avice. There are obvious literary influences in this story (which I will not elaborate on, since part of this discovery is deeply entwined with the power and horror of this story). This story truly reflects what a brilliant writing team Hannett and Slatter are together, exploring the themes of motherhood and family in a setting made the more horrific by the real history which took place there.

The Female Factory won the 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Collection, and the award couldn’t be more well deserved. For readers new to the work of Hannett or Slatter, it would be a brilliant place to start with their work (though I warn you, you will then go on to devour everything both of them have written, both individually and working together). It is a fabulous continuation of the Twelve Planets series, highlighting two more of Australia’s best female writers and is highly recommended.

 

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AWW2017: Lotus Blue, by Cat Sparks

lotus blue Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.

But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past—and the horror of her unfolding destiny—as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.

Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity.

Published by: Talos.


An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.


I am a judge for the 2017 Aurealis Awards. This review is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any judging panel, the judging coordinator, or the Aurealis Awards management team.

 

Cat Sparks is a well-known figure in the Australian speculative fiction scene, both for her work as a prolific short story writer and editor. Lotus Blue is her much-anticipated debut novel.

Lotus Blue is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a land that has been ruined by both war and climate change. In this almost barren land, dominated by desert – the Dead Red Heart – people eke out a meagre existence in amidst the remnants of the technologies that were used to fight the wars that devastated the country.

There are many points of view in this novel – so many, sometimes, that I did find myself skimming over one or the other to get to the characters who interested me the most. Star, a seventeen-year-old who we meet travelling on a caravan with her healer sister, Nene, was the most compelling for me, along with Quarrel, a Templar – a warrior left over from the war, his body part organic and part machine.  Star’s journey is what ultimately shapes the main plot of the book, and it is what she discovers about herself along the way that kept me most enthralled as a reader.

This is a rich and complex world, and coming to the end of the book, it feels very much as though only the surface of the worldbuilding has been revealed. There is an almost cinematic realness to the pieces of this devastated Australia that we see – the ships that “sail” the Dead Red Heart, the warlord-controlled cities where people eke out their lives, and the technologies left over from the war – the bunker cities, the Tankers which roam the deserts and are hunted by the brave, the titular Lotus Blue.

There are going to be inevitable parallels drawn between Lotus Blue and other franchises – Sparks acknowledges that Dune was an influence, and anything set in a post-apocalyptic Australia is inevitably going to be compared to the Mad Max franchise.  Neither of these comparisons really reveals the depth of Sparks’ worldbuilding, or the strength of the characters which populate the book. All of them are human and flawed and heroic and as fascinating as the world.

I had high expectations for a debut novel from Cat Sparks, and Lotus Blue met them. There are some rough edges here and there, but nothing that detracts overmuch from the sheer wonder of the world that Sparks drops the reader into. If you’re a fan of Sparks’ short fiction, Lotus Blue is highly recommended. If you’ve not read anything by her before, this is a great place to start.

 

 

 

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AWW2017: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

crossroadscanopy

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

Published by Tor Books.


A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Crossroads of Canopy is Thoraiya Dyer’s debut novel, the first instalment in the Titan’s Forest trilogy. Dyer is a highly regarded author of short fiction, and her first foray into longer works has been much anticipated.

The world of Crossroads of Canopy is utterly unique. In this world, people live in a forest of giant trees. Canopy is the highest and most privileged realm of the forest, and it is subdivided into thirteen Kingdoms, each one ruled over by a living god or goddess.

Unar is a resident of Canopy, living in Audblayinland, ruled over by the goddess Audblayin. When she is young, Unar becomes convinced that she is destined to become the Bodyguard of Audblayin, and works with single-minded purpose to ensure that this comes to be.

The worldbuilding in this novel is absolutely incredible. Dyer gives the reader a complicated world in what we see of Audblayinland alone, and this world only deepens as the book moves away from Canopy and into Understorey below. There’s a definite sense that this book has only scratched the surface of this world, with so much more to be revealed of both Canopy and the lower levels of the forest.

Unar herself is likely to be protagonist who will divide many readers. She is not always someone who can be liked (which is absolutely not a bad thing), but she remains always someone who is fascinating. She is determined and strong and at all times, extremely human. Even at the times that it’s hard to empathise with her and the choices she makes, it is hard to look away from her. As with the worldbuilding, there’s a definite sense that the real depths of Unar have barely been revealed here, and there is going to be much more to learn about her in later books.

Crossroads of Canopy is the first in what is shaping up to be a brilliant and truly original epic fantasy trilogy, and is highly recommended, especially to readers who’ve burned on epic fantasy and are looking for a complex world filled with complex and interesting characters.

 

 

 

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AWW2017: Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love

secret-lives-books

Secret lives, replete with possibilities. Elsewhere exists as a better place, in a better time, for a better life. The trick is how to get there from here. These stories give the answers. Share in the secret lives of books. Fly to Mars, the first stage, perhaps, in the onward journey to elsewhere. Hear the music of the heavenly spheres and be forever changed, providing the bad guys don’t hear it first. Discover Gaia may not be quite what we think she is. Discover the universe is a rather big place. Embrace Utopia for women too, if only …

Published by Twelfth Planet Press.

 

 

 

 


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Woman Writers Challenge 2017 and A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


The Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love is the tenth volume in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. This volume collects five unconnected short stories (unconnected in terms of plot; like many of the other volumes in the series, there are connected thematic elements).

The first story in the collection is the titular The Secret Lives of Books. There is a deceptive simplicity about Love’s prose which is especially evident in this story. Expect no baroque prose here, but rather an almost brutal simplicity, but there is absolutely nothing simple about Love’s writing, with even the plainest of sentences containing layers of meaning. On the surface, this is a ghost story – a man dies and discovers that he loves his books more than his family. There is so much here that speaks of the deep love that people can have for books, and the homes that they can find in them. One of my favourites from the collection.

Next is Kiddofspeed. I was looking forward to this one in particular, being familiar with the controversy surrounding Elena Filatova’s supposed solo motorbike ride through the radiation zone surrounding Chernobyl. This is a biting piece, short but extremely powerful, that speaks to the layers of meaning that occur at the place where fact blurs into fiction.

Qasida is a story that really highlights Love’s precise talent with language. There are several threads running through this story, including explorers, Mars, alternate history and the connections that hold people together (and conversely, are not strong enough to hold them together). There’s an almost psychedelic tone to this story, giving the impression of looking into a kaleidoscope of fractured images that, at the end, form into a whole. I am deeply impressed by the talent that it takes to write a story like this.

The Kairos Moment feels very much cut from similar cloth as Qasida, though the story itself isn’t fractured into pieces. For me, it didn’t work quite as well as the previous story (which probably reflects much more on me as a reader than Love as a writer).

The final story in the collection is The slut and the universe. To me, this story reads as a feminist fable, exploring the ideas of feminine sexuality and the ways in which women choose to present themselves to the world. A stunning story, and a strong finish to the collection.

This is the first Rosaleen Love that I’ve read (much to my shame) and I am certain that it won’t be the last. I suspect that many of the stories will stand up well to rereading (and will possibly gain depth upon each reread). Like all of the volumes in the Twelve Planets, it is highly recommended.

 

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AWW2017: Bitten by Amanda Pillar

bitten

The city of Pinton has never been safe…and now a serial killer is on the loose.

Doctor Alice Reive is the city’s coroner, and she’s determined to help find the murderer. Enlisting the assistance of the Honorable Dante Kipling and city guard Elle Brown, they race to track down the killer, before another victim dies.

Hannah Romanov – Dante’s missing twin sister – has spent hundreds of years living on an isolated mountain. But her quiet life is thrown into chaos after she discovers a baby left in the wilds to die. Hannah will do anything to ensure the infant’s survival, even if it means travelling to the worst place in the world for her – Pinton.

Published by Pronoun.


An eARC of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. In addition, I beta read an earlier version of this book, and consider Amanda Pillar a friend and have worked with her as an editor. I have done my best to provide an impartial review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.


Bitten is the second novel, and fourth instalment in Amanda Pillar’s Graced series (The previous instalments are the novel Graced (which I reviewed here) and the novellas Captive (reviewed here) and Survivor (reviewed here).

If you’ve read my reviews of the other works set in the Graced universe, you’ll know how much I love this universe. The books exist somewhere in the crossover of paranormal romance/urban fantasy – but if you’re turned off immediately by the mention of any of these genres, I encourage you to read anyway. Pillar’s use of even the most well-worn of tropes is fresh and new, and I suspect that this series could serve well as a gateway into UF/PR.

The world of the Graced books is fascinating – there are vampires and various types of wereanimal, and there also exist a subset of humans gifted with psychic powers, the Graced, their powers revealed by the possession of an eye colour other than brown. The world is far more complex, however, and even after four instalments, it feels as though there is much, much more to be revealed about the world.

Bitten occurs chronologically after the events of Graced,  and while it mostly stands on its own, reading Graced first helps set up the world, and the existing relationships between some characters who were protagonists in Graced, and are now secondary characters in Bitten. It is not necessary to have read the two novellas, but reading them definitely deepens the world in general (especially the information that’s revealed in Captive, which is referred to in a minor fashion in Bitten.)

While the worldbuilding is fascinating, Pillar’s real strength is in her characters and the relationships (and snark and banter…oh, so much wonderful banter) between them. Bitten mostly focuses on four characters – the coroner Alice Reive, Hannah, a Graced vampire, Fin, who can only be described as a rogue (sorry, Fin, but it’s true!) and his friend, Byrne, a werebear. I pretty much fell in love with every one of the characters over the course of the book – well, okay, I fell in love with Fin the minute he stepped onto the page. Bloody rogue types.

The book isn’t all about the romance, though. There is also a crime plot threading through everything, with a serial killer hunting vampires. This part of the book didn’t quite work as well for me as the relationships and character arcs (possibly because they’re just so stellar in their writing), but neither was it unsatisfying in any way.

It should also be noted that the book does use the soul mate/fated mate trope at one point, which is a trope which I am very wary of, since it often involves characters essentially losing their own self determination and can, at worst, essentially become a form of rape and/or abuse. I was very pleased with the way Pillar handled the use of the trope, with the involved characters still retaining their will and common sense. Many authors could learn a lot from the way she treats this kind of trope.

Overall, Bitten is another spectacular instalment in the Graced universe, and I recommend it (and the whole series) highly, most especially to readers who might be burned on on the same-old same-old paranormal books.

 

 

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AWW2017: Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer

asymmetry

An Australian Air Force base patrolled by werewolves. A planet where wages are paid in luck. A future where copies are made of criminals to interpret their dark dreams. A medieval cavalry of mothers who are only permitted to take as many lives as they have created.

In every world, an imbalance of power. Something terribly askew between women and men, humans and wolves, citizens and constructs, light and dark.

In every world, asymmetry.

Published by Twelfth Planet Press


This review is presented as part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017 and as part of my contribution to A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.

I purchased this book.


Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the eighth book in Twelfth Planet Press’s Twelve Planets series.

Thoraiya Dyer is an author whose short fiction I’ve loved in the past, and I very much looked forward to reading her volume of the Twelve Planets (and as an aside, I very much anticipate reading her debut novel, Crossroads of Canopy, which is in my review queue right now). This collection includes four unrelated short stories, all of which fall under the general speculative fiction umbrella, but are otherwise varied. There is, however, a thread that winds through all of the stories, in that all contain an asymmetry, an imbalance of power.

The collection opens with After Hours, which on the surface is the experience of a female veterinarian new at her job in a rural town. The speculative threads move beneath the surface of the events of the story, with much of the focus on Jess, the vet, who is working against a culture that treats her, as a woman, as very much not worth training, especially when it comes to work with the RAAF and their patrol dogs. This is a deeply powerful story, with much sympathy both for Jess and her co-workers, even as those who disparage her. I read this one, and immediately went back to the beginning and read it over again.

Zadie, Scythe of the West, takes a turn into a pure fantasy world. Dyer has inverted the gender roles in this world, with women acting as warriors, and men homekeepers (with much of their self worth being tied up in this role). There is a wonderful twist to this inversion, where the female warriors are only allowed to kill as many people as children they have birthed. I loved this concept, and adored this story and was utterly fascinated by this world. I’d love to see more of this world, and would pay good money for a novel (or ten) set in it.

Another deeply fascinating world is presented in Wish Me Luck, where luck itself works as a currency. I was quite frankly in awe of this story, and how Dyer managed to bring so many deeply interesting ideas and images into a short work, where many authors have struggled to present half as many in longer works. This was my favourite in the collection, and another world I’d love to see more works set in.

The final story in the collection is Seven Days in Paris. I feel that this is a story that it is best to come into with as little foreknowledge as possible. This is an incredibly powerful story, wrenching and deeply emotional. This one will linger long after you’ve read the final word.

Thus far, the collections published as part of the Twelve Planets have been truly outstanding, and Asymmetry rises easily to that high standard.  If you’ve not read anything by Dyer before, this is a great place to start. Dyer stands with Australia’s best writers of short fiction, and Asymmetry presents her talent wonderfully.

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