Always Will Be by Mykaela Saunders 

The title comes from the Indigenous affirmation talking about connection to Country and the fact that sovereignty over this land was never ceded: Always was. Always will be. The second sentence infers the future, and this is when these stories are set.

The exclusion from white society works in the favour of Indigenous communities for once. (We) Whitefellas have continued to wring as much as we could out of the land in pursuit of the dollar. The long-term failure of these ideals has left the land scarred by bushfires and broken by rapacious disregard. The Tweed – Bundjalung country – is now back under the custodianship of those whose care for it has never ceased. 

Inside are 17 speculative fiction stories, along with an introduction, ‘Jingi Wallah’, and acknowledgement, ‘Bugalbeh’. The first story, ‘Taking Our Time’ sets the mood for what follows. Here, after the apocalypse, Indigenous people gather all the whitefella time-keeping devices (watches, clocks, diaries etc) and dispose of them in a bog. Time is allowed to return to its circular and seasonal rhythms – an enticing prospect.

‘Blood and Soil’ sees an Indigenous father returning to Country and teaching his son, Jacob, cultural traditions. Jacob, however, takes these lessons in a different direction. ‘Tweed Sanctuary Tour’ helps visitors understand cultural living: it’s not designed to be ‘utopia’, but simply, ‘healthy culture’. There’s whimsy in ‘Terranora’ and ‘Cyclone Season’, where ocean bikies use jet skis, rather than bikes. (It’s whimsical until you realise they’re only on jet skis because the roads have now been subsumed by sea level rises.)

The writing is confident and joyful, reflecting the freedom offered by the ability to return to Country and its culture.

Reviewed by Bob Moore

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mykaela Saunders, authorMykaela Saunders ia a Koori/Goori and Lebanese writer, teacher, researcher and editor. She has won prizes for fiction, poetry, life writing and research. Her writing has been widely published across forms, genres and disciplines, and my projects have attracted funding and fellowships.

Always Will Be: Stories of Goori sovereignty from the futures of the Tweed won the 2022 David Unaipon award, and is out now from UQP.

She is the editor of This All Come Back Now, the Aurealis Award-winning, world first collection of blackfella speculative fiction.

She has worked in Aboriginal education in various capacities since 2003, and taught at the tertiary level since 2012. Her research explores my community’s past, present and future.

She is of Dharug descent and I belong to the Tweed Goori community. She lives and works with gratitude on the lands of the Dharug, Kulin, and Bundjalung nations – Sydney, Melbourne, and the northern rivers of NSW.

Visit Mykaela Saunders’ website

Anithia: Ancestry of Awakening (Book Two) by Lee Lehner

Isola Destin is back in the quest to cultivate her couturier gift that was  bestowed upon her in book one where we saw her enter a fantastical world of possibilities, ancestral land, spirituality and recreation.

A collection of old books sees her this time travelling to England in pursuit of her gift where she makes the acquaintance of an Anithian storyteller called Natoli who teaches her about the journey she has to take which will be filled with a lot of new and grand adventures that will take her to the year 1820 Florida.

Mystical, magical and beautiful is how I would describe this stunning book which took me on an immersive and ethereal journey into the world of rainforests, enchantment and ancient culture to name a few. The characters were gracefully depicted and crafted with a sense of wonder and love that was evident throughout.

The storytelling is well executed and filled with pure emotion and imagination along with the uniquely crafted characters as I was transported to different worlds.

Highly recommend reading book one, Anthia: Ancestry of Creativity, followed by this one to get a better understanding of the story and its continuation.

Reviewed by Bianca Malyan

The Briar Book of the Dead by A G Slatter

This story is set in the close-knit town of Silverton, which is protected by the Briar family of witches. Our main character, Ellie Briar, is the first in her family to be born without magic, so she establishes herself as Silverton’s steward, managing the day-to-day minutiae of the town. However, after a traumatic head injury, Ellie suddenly realises she has become a ‘Speaker to the Dead’; she is the only one in the town who can see and communicate with ghosts. With the help of her dead ancestor, Sandor Briar, she starts the Briar Book of the Dead: an archive of confessions so the dead of Silverton pass on in peace. 

This novel fits within Slater’s ‘Sourdough’ series, and includes the same world-building and monsters, such as trolls, melyne (angry spirits of children) and leech lords (her version of vampires). These creatures don’t feature heavily in the story, but I loved the references to a larger world. The book is definitely cosy fantasy, but is at times very Gothic and atmospheric, with some surprisingly gruesome horror elements. There’s a spell for a ‘briar-tongue’ that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. 

The Briar Book of the Dead begins like a small-town mystery novel, with many episodic, interwoven narratives as Ellie deals with the local gossip. Ellie herself is a great main character, I liked how practical and grounded she is. The writing is lyrical and easy to follow, and even if the opening is a little slow, the story really picks up when the ghosts are introduced and it just gets better from there.  

Reviewed by Rachel Denham-White

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A G Slatter (Angela Slatter) authorAngela Slatter (also writing as A.G. Slatter) is the author of All The Murmuring Bones, The Path of Thorns and the The Briar Book of the Dead. All are gothic fantasies set in the world of the Sourdough, Bitterwood and Tallow-Wife collections. .

Angela is also the author of the supernatural crime novels: Vigil (2016), Corpselight (2017) and Restoration(2018), as well as ten other short story collections, including The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, A Feast of Sorrows: Stories, and The Heart is a Mirror for Sinners and Other Stories.

Vigil was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award in 2018. All The Murmuring Bones was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards Book of the Year in 2021 and for the Shirley Jackson Awards in 2022.

The Path of Thorns won the 2022 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, as well as the Australian Shadows Award for Best Novel. The Bone Lantern won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella and has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novella.

Visit A G Slatter’s website

In the Lives of the Puppets by T J Kingfisher

In the Lives of Puppets is set decades after the rise of a robot empire, where our main character, Victor Lawson, is one of the last surviving humans. He lives in a secluded treehouse with his mechanical father, Giovanni, a small, talkative vacuum, and a sarcastic, downright psychopathic, nurse robot. When they find a relic from a bygone era, the mysterious android HAP, they find themselves in terrible danger from the all-powerful robot, Authority.

Victor sets out for the City of Electric Dreams to find his family, while HAP discovers whether to gain, or reclaim, some humanity.

This book is inspired by The Adventures of Pinocchio, with very clear references to The Terrible Dogfish, the Fox and the Cat and the Blue Fairy. Interestingly, either Victor or HAP could stand in for the titular puppet, as both face questions of conscience, free will, responsibility and agency throughout the plot. All the main protagonists are likeable.

The robot perspective and City of Electric Dreams are interesting, but feels a bit uninspired. The robots are like humans, but without strong emotions.

I feel the book is let down by its humour as Klune has about three jokes that he repeats. One of the plot points about Victor being asexual feels like it is used for comedic purposes, which didn’t sit right with me. In the Lives of Puppets doesn’t quite reach the heights of Klune’s other works, like The House in the Cerulean Sea, but is still a fun, whimsical fairytale for the adventurous reader.

Reviewed by Rachel Denham-White

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

T J Kingfisher fantasy authorUrsula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher is the author and illustrator of far more projects than is probably healthy. She has written over fifteen books for children, at least a dozen novels for adults, an epic webcomic called “Digger” and various short stories and other odds and ends.

The daughter of an artist, she spent her youth attempting to rebel, but eventually succumbed to the siren song of paint (although not before getting a degree in anthropology.) Ursula grew up in Oregon and Arizona, went to college at Macalester College in Minnesota, and stayed there for ten years, until she finally learned to drive in deep snow and was obligated to leave the state.

Having moved across the country several times, she eventually settled in Pittsboro, North Carolina, where she works full-time as an artist and creator of oddities. She lives with her husband and his chickens.

Visit T J Kingfisher’s website

The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

The Hurricane Wars began as Star Wars fanfiction, and evolved into an epic, South-East-Asian-inspired romantasy.

Talasyn and Alaric are fighting on opposite sides in a magical war. Alaric is next in line to inherit an empire. Talasyn thinks she’s just a humble foot soldier, until she travels to the island state of Nenavar. She suddenly discovers she’s the long-lost heir to the Nenavar Dominion, and spends the rest of the book learning how to be a princess. Guanzon includes popular tropes of enemies-to-lovers and a marriage of convenience; Talasyn and Alaric are engaged through a political alliance, as their combined powers are the only defence against an upcoming magical threat.

Guanzon throws a ton of world-building into this first book. Nenavar was an interesting setting to explore, and I especially enjoyed the lore behind their aether-based magic system, and how this nation manipulates a destructive power known as Voidfell. Our two leads are characterised as typical light-and-dark magical opposites and their developing romance was the highlight of the book for me.

Unfortunately The Hurricane Wars just didn’t transition from fanfiction to novel for me. The chapters are episodic, and there is little to no climax or resolution. As this is the first entry in a trilogy, this book feels abruptly taken out of a much larger narrative. A good portion of the side characters disappear halfway and the story focuses entirely on Talasyn and Alaric, which means you only have two people to care about.

A good fantasy opener and perfect for lovers of romantasy, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea.

Reviewed by Rachel Denham-White

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thea Guanzon authorThea Guanzon is a bestselling author born and raised amid the sprawling sugarcane fields of the Visayas, in the Philippines. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies, with a specialization in International Politics and Peace Studies.

Aside from being a writer, she is an avid traveller, an enthusiastic fangirl, a Dungeon Master, and an iced coffee junkie. Villains have her whole heart, as do messy romances with happy endings. She currently resides in Metro Manila.

Visit Thea Guanzon’s website

A Study in Drowning by Ava Reid

A Study in Drowning opens with one of the most mystical first lines I’ve ever read, and it only gets better from there.

Effy Sayre is a student commissioned to work on architectural plans for the late, great Emrys Myrddin, the national writer of Llyr. When she journeys to his family home, she meets Preston Héloury, a literature major searching for undiscovered material for his dissertation on Myrddin. Effy is protective of her favourite writer, whose book Angharad she loves, and although Preston is from the rival nation of Argant, she agrees to work with him. 

Ava Reid’s writing is melancholy and beautiful. There is constant imagery of water, drowning and decay, with Effy and Preston wandering around the crumbling house filled with damp rooms and the blustery cliffs of the seaside town. It’s atmospheric, and the plot grabs you from the very first chapter. 

Effy and Preston are engaging leads buoyed by some great supporting characters. I especially liked Effy’s passionate devotion to Myrddin’s writing. However, the absolute BEST part of the book is the story-within-a-story: Angharad. So much time was spent on this fictional novel, with Reid creating excerpts, early drafts, biography pages, literary essays, and cultural criticism, and none of it feels inconsequential to the story. In fact, I hope Reid decides to write it for real. 

This fictional narrative felt like a mix of The Cruel Prince and The Haunting of Hill House, which was a great addition to an overall incredible book. 

Reviewed by Rachel Denham-White

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ava Reid AuthorAva Reid was born in Manhattan and raised right across the Hudson River in Hoboken, but currently lives in Palo Alto, where the weather is too sunny and the people are too friendly. She has a degree in political science from Barnard College, focusing on religion and ethnonationalism.

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