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The Sydney Morning Herald

In short

Author: Reviews by Kerryn Goldsworthy
Date: 05/02/2011
Words: 826
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Spectrum
Page: 34

Michelle Lovric

Orion Children's Books, 412pp, $28.99

This is a sequel to Lovric's young adult novel The Undrowned Child, in which the heroine, Teo, defeated the bad guy. The half-man, half-bat in question is one Bajamonte Tiepolo, who has now returned to the stricken city of Venice despite a prophecy that has identified Teo and her friend Renzo as the only people who can save the city. And now Tiepolo has his eye on London as Teo and Renzo find themselves aboard a boat filled with orphans bound for that bereaved city.

If you don't recognise the influence of J.K. Rowling on the plot in the first few pages then you have not been paying attention but the writing style and vision are quite different.

Lovric is a prolific writer and editor who also writes for adults. Her richly dark imagination is often also in evidence here. She is clever, witty and richly informed and there is plenty in this book to entertain adults as well as younger readers.


Noah Boyd

HarperCollins, 400pp, $32.99

Pick of the week

Boyd's previous novel, The Bricklayer, introduced Steve Vail, a ruggedly independent and highly intuitive former FBI agent and now a lone wolf. In the earlier book he had a fling with one Kate Bannon, now an assistant director in the FBI, and in the opening chapter of this sequel he has arrived in Washington DC for a romantic New Year's Eve reunion. But the FBI has other plans.

The complex plot involves Russians and takes a great deal of explaining. We learn very early that the spanner in the romance works is Kate's pesky career and that Vail will always make some wonderful intuitive leap to solve a mystery, just as he will always be right and he will always hit whomever he shoots at but somehow never get shot himself. This makes for less suspense than one usually requires of a thriller but Boyd makes up for it with a really thumping surprise plot twist very near the end.

Lizbreath Salamander is an attractive young dragon sporting a tattoo of a mythical figure: a girl. Her story bears a remarkable similarity to that of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, except with dragons; Roberts obviously knows the Larsson books very well, as he does his dragon lore. It's no mean feat to be both a professor of Victorian literature and a writer of science fiction but to extend those gifts to write a pastiche of both as a parody is remarkable.

In the film versions of Larsson's novels, the bones of the story are much easier to see than they were while still padded by his explanatory, expository prose; the trouble with his books is that they have too much writing in them. In Roberts's novel you also have to plough through a lot of fairly ordinary stuff to get to the good stuff and, in that respect, his parody is closer to the original than he may have intended.


Leila Aboulela

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 320pp, $32.99

Set in the Sudan of the 1950s and also partly in Egypt and Britain, this book will be a reminder to most readers of how little most Westerners know about even the recent history of the region. It's the saga of one family and its individual relations and fates but the changing politics and modernisation of the three countries involved are the things that form the characters and drive much of the plot. If the plot trajectory of this novel seems a little strange it's because this story is based on real events: the life of the author's uncle, Sudanese poet Hassan Awad Aboulela, is the model for one of her main characters. Nur is paralysed as a young man in an accident that deprives him of his true love but sets him on an unexpectedly fulfilling life path he would otherwise have been prevented from following, that path being the "lyrics alley" of the oddly beautiful title: a narrow side street where one would not normally go.

Nur is the most promising of the three sons of Mahmood Bey, patriarch of the prosperous Abuzeid family, so his accident comes as a terrible blow to everyone  but most of all to his cousin Soraya, to whom he is unofficially betrothed. One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is that, as a Muslim, Aboulela presents the facts of her characters' Islamic Sudanese lives in the most matter-of-fact way and writes about Mahmood's two wives as the norm for time and place. It's an effective literary conceit too, as it points out the contrasts between the traditional Sudanese ways, represented by the first wife, Waheeba, and the modern Egyptian values and practices of the younger wife, Nabilah. Some of the book is hard for a Western reader to take but it's profoundly enlightening all the same.


Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 312pp, $17.99

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