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Saturday, December 8, 2012

‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ The Tribe #1 by Ambelin Kwaymullina

From the BLURB:

Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe - the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind. And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move. Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?

Ashala Jane Ambrose is being taken to the machine that will break her. It will use her memories against her, ripping into her mind and putting the Tribe in danger. 

There is nobody to help Ashala. The boy she trusted, Justin Connor, revealed himself as a traitor and is now her guard in Detention Centre 3. The infamous Chief Administrator, Neville Rose, has Ashala in his sights and will do whatever it takes to find the location of her Tribe in the Firstwood.

But within these walls are more Illegals like Ashala and her Tribe members. Illegals that are fighting in their own way. Sleepwalkers, Rumblers, Chirpers, Firestarters, Skychangers, Leafers and Menders among them. 

Ashala will not stop, for she is the leader of the Tribe. They can try to break her; they can take her memories and steal her thoughts. But they will not break her, for she is Ashala Wolf – the name she assumed when she became leader of hunted children. 

She is Ashala Wolf.
She will not break.
Just let them try. 

I bared my teeth at him. “There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. There will be nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, and no way to stop them from freeing every single Illegal in this centre. And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.” 

‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ is the first book in a new young adult Australian Dystopian series called ‘The Tribe’ by Ambelin Kwaymullina. 

Set some 300 years in the future, Ambelin Kwaymullina’s is an Eco-Dystopian, in which the current crumbled world is only just recuperating after mankind devastated it with pollution and disregard, which culminated in a terrible flood, which also shrunk the world’s population. And from these waters another change occurred in the ripples of humanity… when certain people started gaining new abilities. There are Firestarters, with temperamental combustion who can create flame from thin air. Menders lay hands and heal people. And Sleepwalkers, like Ashala Wolf, can be transported when they dream. 

And although in Kwaymullina’s future society there is no discrimination of skin colour, these people with special abilities are hunted and caged for what they can do – and their potential for causing natural disaster. That’s where Ashala and her Tribe come in … because the Tribe believe in The Balance; that just as the earth has had to equalize and harmonize after environmental devastation, so too will the human race have to accept that those with abilities are apart of the same whole – neither good, nor bad, but of this new world order.

There are those who would like to see humans like Ashala and her Tribe locked up in Detention Centres – to be experimented and terminated. But it has become Ashala’s mission in life to give these ‘others’ a fighting chance, and a place to hide in the Firstwood.

I’ve been grumbling for a little while now about the fact that the once hyped Dystopian genre is losing its lustre for me. It seems to be so same-same these days, and while Suzanne Collins’s ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy had real heart and an interesting social context in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, lately it feels like everything Dystopian that has come since ‘The Hunger Games’ has been lukewarm and simply ticking trope boxes rather than genuinely provoking. A good Dystopian book should use metaphor to correlate what they write in their war-torn/dictator-led/post-apocalyptic world with what is happening to people reading the book in present day. And, honestly, I just haven’t felt that lately (especially not when so many Dystopian’s now also think a love triangle is necessary because Katniss/Peeta/Gale had one). 

So when I picked up Ambelin Kwaymullina’s ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ I felt a wee bit weary, but decided to remain open-minded. But a few pages into this Aussie YA novel and I discovered that there was nothing stale or stagnate in this new Dystopian offering. In fact, with Kwaymullina’s originality and breath-taking story, ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ is proof-positive that the post-apocalyptic genre is still a fascinating one, but only if you have as good a story to tell as Kwaymullina does with Ashala Wolf.

First, I’d like to highlight how wonderful it is to read an Australian young adult novel with an Aboriginal protagonist, and written by an Aboriginal author (Kwaymullina heralds from the Palyku People of the Pilbara region). As I mentioned, in this future world racial discrimination is a thing of the past, but Kwaymullina makes it a point to indirectly highlight that Ashala has a strong connection to the earth, gaining strength from her dreams of Firstwood and always with a deep respect for nature. Ashala’s ancestors are undoubtedly Aboriginal; and 300 years later she has inherited their connection to the land. 

I’ve written about how much I loved reading an Australian novel with an Aboriginal protagonist, and how we need more of the like for young readers. My opinion of this appearing on the ‘Kill Your Darlings’ blog. 

My appreciation of the novel’s Indigenous ties goes deeper than merely having an Aboriginal protagonist. It’s something that is at the very heart of the novel – indeed, just as Ashala has a connection to the land, so too does this story for being a unique Dystopian with a focus on environmental disaster and mankind’s fault in killing the world some 300 years ago with greed and negligence. 

It’s also the fact that Kwaymullina draws on Dreamtime themes in her book. For international readers, The Dreamtime is the animist framework of Australian Aboriginal mythology, and is a sacred era in which ancestral totemic spirit beings created the world. The Dreamtime is something all Australian children learn about in primary school (but, sadly, seems to drop off the curriculum when you enter high school and the focus shifts to colonialist ‘white’ history). But reading Dreamtime connections in ‘The Tribe’ really clicked for me – it’s wonderful the symbolism that Kwaymullina explores, in particular with serpent creatures who are another product of ‘The Balance’ and play a vital role in protecting the children of the Firstwood Tribe. All Australian schoolchildren know the story of the Rainbow Serpent – the serpent Goorialla who travelled the land searching for his tribe, and along the way made gorges and rivers with his body, caves and mountains – shaping the landscape that we now know. The Rainbow Serpent has since become a symbol of fertility and abundance, so having this connection in ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ runs very deep and adds layers to this Dystopian world.

I also can’t deny that Kwaymullina being an Indigenous author of fantasy fiction has its own deeper intrigue and authenticity. In an interview I did with Kwaymullina for the KYD blog, I asked her what sorts of books she read growing up, and she replied with a very interesting answer which perhaps reveals why she would go on to write a Dystopian book, particularly one about a band of children with special abilities who are evading capture by those who want them eradicated from society: 

Mostly, I read speculative fiction, which were the stories I felt a sense of kinship with. It’s not that speculative fiction was ever especially peopled with non-Caucasian characters (unless, that is, you count elves, fairies, or aliens). But they were often stories of the underdog, and of the outcast; of a small group of determined people fighting injustice against impossible odds. My ancestors had suffered under, and resisted, unjust policies and laws. I could relate.

But above all else, ‘The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf’ is a darn-good yarn. Kwaymullina offers a heartfelt Eco-Dystopian, with a simultaneous guessing-game plot as Ashala’s interrogation reveals the layers of her memory. Then, of course, there’s her tricky relationship with thought-to-be-friend, now foe and prison guard, Justin Connor, which adds even more slurp to an already juicy plot.

Second book in the series is due out in August 2013, and I can’t wait. Kwaymullina leaves Ashala (and readers) not on the precipice of a cliff-hanger, but standing on the threshold of a daunting new world that is so intriguing and dangerous, readers will be counting down the days until they can return to Firstwood and Ashala’s Tribe.


1 comment:

  1. I read this a couple of months ago and I really loved it for all of the reasons that you mentioned above but also because of the way the author was able to gradually unveil the story in such an unusual way.

    I can't wait to read the next book!


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