Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and emerge either with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.
In the great forest of South West Western Australia, thirteen-year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.
After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia…if they can reach it before time runs out.
Children of the Different is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel set among the varied landscapes and wildlife of Western Australia.
I don’t read a lot of Young Adult fiction. I never have, although weirdly I read more now as a, ah, less young adult than I did as an actual young adult. And like everyone else, I caught a bit of a bug for YA Dysopia from the Hunger Games, but that didn’t last long. And I must confess that the above description didn’t grab me (this is becoming an increasing problem; I wind up reviewing a fair number of books I like much more than I expected from the copy, books I probably wouldn’t have read but for the blog). But Flynn directly solicited me to review Children of the Different, and I was very impressed by his efforts to do self-publication right, with professional editing and cover art. So I took a chance.
I am very glad that I did.
Frankly, though, looking back on it that looks like good copy. It’s a fair description of the book, and it’s easy to get excited about it when I know just how well Flynn handles each element.
Arika and Narrah take equal billing. I’m just glad to not see another love triangle, but a deep sibling bond is something we don’t see enough of in speculative fiction. Arika and Narrah have been together since birth, linked by blood, the deprivations of post-apocalyptic life, and a telepathic bond, the “Path.” The Path gets blocked, in full or in part, though, when Arika goes through her Changing. Arika and Narrah really know and care about each other, and their visceral reaction to losing the Path emphasizes this.
The Changeland is the sort of thing that has been done before—it reminds me a lot of both Tel’Aran’Rhiod and the test to become Accepted from The Wheel of Time—but Flynn does it about as well as I’ve ever seen it done. It allows us to see both pre-Great Madness Australia and the onset of the Great Madness through the eyes of characters who never knew anything but the world after the Great Madness. And it allows a supremely creepy introduction of the Anteater, whose name doesn’t sound so silly when he’s a disembodied voice comparing humans to ants.
Here in the Changeland, I live among these towers. Termite mounds—full of millions of flying ants. Thousands of little packets of life consumed to keep the one life of the anteater going. Wherever they hide, he gets them. Thousands of deaths for one life. That creature that feeds on life is me. The Anteater.
And coming out of the Changeland is no picnic either, because sometimes children come out as Ferals or, worse, Sleeper Ferals who wait and seem normal and wait and then slaughter a few people from the settlement. And Arika and Narrah live in a particularly superstitious settlement.
The Changing does come with some benefits. If you don’t come out a Feral, if you survive at all (as with Tel’Aran’Rhiod, wounds there are wounds in the real world), if you survive suspicious neighbors, then you come out of it with psychic powers. At the risk of LIGHT SPOILERS, Arika gains to psychosomatic ability to gain the powers of animals. She doesn’t actually physically change but she thinks she does and that’s enough. And no this doesn’t make much sense but it’s cool. And Flynn takes full advantage of the Australian bestiary. Narrah, on the other hand, gets the ability to read computer files by touch, which would be lame if I didn’t have a f___ed up external hard drive that could use some recovering.
It’s hard to call this anything other than fantasy, but it has a logic to it and works in service to the story. The cause of the Great Madness is frighteningly plausible, in degree if not in kind. That the survivors all had something “different” about their minds is a nice touch. It effects who they are in the new world. The alcoholic jumps at his second chance. The woman who couldn’t protect the family who took care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself gathers a new family around her. People who were severely mentally disabled are tabula rasa. Presumably many of those who survived are psychopaths who help make life in the new world particularly nasty, brutish, and short.
Some quick action, a couple good hooks, and the story is off to the races.
This is definitely a YA book, and Flynn keeps his sentences simple to the point of distraction, but he occasionally throws in a nice flourish.
It had been raining that day and the forest was dark. He could still smell the strong eucalyptus scent rising off the huge karri trees that stood like crying gods dripping tears on the little lost humans far below.
We need to see more self-published fiction like Children of the Different.
4 of 5 Stars.