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.
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.