Shadowhunters: Very flawed but fun

I still enjoy Shadowhunters despite its flaws. There are times when I watch the show and roll my eyes just like I did with the books but at the heart of it, the world still feels fun with great characters even if the main character isn’t interesting and the world isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like.

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What If: A teenage girl discovers she is part of a hidden world within our own.

 

The Execution:

 

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Main Cast of the Television Show

 

On her eighteenth birthday, Clary Fray finds out her entire life is a lie when her mother is kidnapped. Clary is thrust into a world of supernatural beings – demons, warlocks, werewolves, vampires that are policed by part-angel beings called Shadowhunters. She finds out she is also a shadowhunter and she embarks to find out why her mother kept this secret from her.

 

I’m reviewing the Netflix version rather than the book as I had watched the television show recently but read the books a few years ago. I am not a diehard fan of the series, but I enjoyed it as a light urban fantasy read. The show is pretty fluffy too, I don’t ever believe any characters are in danger, and the whole ‘ending the world’ theme they have going on falls flat. The one thing I’ve noticed is that despite the changes between book and television show is that Clary and Jace are the most boring characters.

 

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I have no attachment to these two. 

 

I understand inserting an ‘everyman’ that the audience identifies with is a common way to introduce the exciting fantasy world. Harry Potter and the Hobbit do this very well. But the main character is supposed to be the person who drives the plot, and the audience/reader identifies with, and Clary is not it. She has no distractive voice or characteristics other than drawing (which isn’t shown very well), and it feels like the plot is happening to her rather than she’s driving the plot. Everyone and everything around her are far more interesting that I always question why we are following Clary. The only character that is more boring than Clary is Jace, despite all his brooding and dark past, he’s not interesting. He’s pretty, a good fighter and likes to brood. That’s it. Nothing else. And he’s the love interest. This was a problem in the source material as well; I don’t understand why they didn’t change the characters a bit since they have no problem changing the plot of the novels.

 

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Jace: Master of brooding. He is pretty though. 

 

 

Toeing the line between interesting side characters who do more than serving the plot but don’t overshadow the main story with their subplot is also difficult, and Shadowhunters fails on this front. I’m far too invested in Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood’s romance than I am in the plot to ‘destroy the world’ by Valentine. I’m more interested in watching Simon adjust to being a vampire than I am in Clary adjusting to being a Shadowhunter.

 

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The show does not have enough Magnus and Alec. 

 

It’s also hard when the world overshadows the main plot as well. The world of Shadowhunters is very dense with mythical creatures yet doesn’t go into how they work much. It is something like “Oh look Warlocks!” or “Oh look Vampires!” than it does in explaining how they all live together in our world. While you don’t want to spend hours upon hours exploring every mythical part of the world, you still expect a bit of explanation or having them part of the plot and world in a meaningful way. At times, it feels like they introduce things just to sound cool. Towards the end of the first season, Clary goes into an alternative world which serves little purpose to the plot other than to laugh at the alternative lives of characters in a world with no shadowhunters.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

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Everyone in this universe is ridiculously good looking. 

 

I still enjoy Shadowhunters despite its flaws. There are times when I watch the show and roll my eyes just like I did with the books but at the heart of it, the world still feels fun with great characters even if the main character isn’t interesting and the world isn’t as fleshed out as I’d like. The books and the television show don’t take themselves too seriously and will often reference other work or how ridiculous something sounds which is probably why I never feel like anyone is ever in danger. It’s still an enjoyable time to watch the characters run around in this mythical world.

My top 6 books for 2016

My favourite books for 2016

I probably should have put this out at the beginning of January, but I’ve been on a writing hiatus after burning myself out with NaNoWriMo.

 

  1. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

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The 2016 Stella Award Winning novel by Charlotte Wood about Yolanda and Verla, two very different women with one thing in common – they both were splashed all over the media as part of a sex scandal and were shamed into hiding. Except instead of being sent away to a resort they are sent to the Australian Outback under prison-like conditions. The narrative is told through the perspective of Yolanda and Verla who are polar opposites of each other. Yolanda is from a working class background and allegedly slept with a group of footballers. Verla is a university educated woman and former mistress to a politician. I read this back in March, and I was immediately pissed off by the ending. It is a difficult book to read the first time, but it has a lot to say about Australian culture and the treatment of women. I am likely to reread this one a few times again.

 

  1. Vigil by Angela Slatter

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I’ve already done a detailed review of Angela Slatter’s Vigil, but I couldn’t leave it off my list. Vigil is about Verity Fassbinder trying to police the supernatural community of Brisbane called the Weyrd. The premise is hardly revolutionary, and yet the sheer mastery of skill from Slatter as a writer makes this more than your typical urban fantasy novel. Vigil is distinctly Australian without feeling forced. I found myself loving every word and Verity’s voice.

 

  1. Welcome to Orphancorp by Marlee Jane Ward

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This was the first review on my blog. I read this over a weekend and was enthralled with the idea of a world where in the near future, Australia privatises the foster and prison systems, and they are now run by a corporation. At first, the idea seemed a bit far-fetched but after watching a documentary about how the US prison systems works and the scandal at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre it suddenly seems an incredibly realistic prospect. It’s a great book with an authentic voice, and I have seen talk on Marlee’s Twitter that she is working on some sequels which I am pumped for. No word on when they will be released.

 

  1. Goodwood by Holly Throsby

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I found this book completely by accident; I was listening to an interview with Holly on the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast and was immediately enthralled about the concept of this book that I bought it straight away and read it over four days, despite being in the middle of NaNoWriMo. It is set in 1992 in a small town called Goodwood. Seventeen-year-old Jean finds $500 in a tree near a creek where all the teenagers of the town hang out. A few days later Rosie White, the coolest girl in town disappears. Then one week later, Bart McDonald goes on a fishing trip and never comes home. I grew up in a small town in Queensland in the 1990’s and 2000’s, and she captures the small town politics and culture so well without falling into stereotypes. Despite the fact Jean isn’t the main driver of events it never feels boring as we do not only see a mystery unfold, but we’re also seeing Jean deal with being on the cusp of adulthood and all that comes with it. It’s such an excellent example of Australian fiction.

 

  1. Air Awaken Series by Elise Kova

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Technically this covers five books as I read the entire series this year. I discovered Air Awakens on a podcast like Goodwood, so it is proof that author interviews do in fact sell books. I devoured the first three books in a few days as I was travelling and had the time to do so. The fourth and fifth book are a little uneven, and it feels like the story could have been told over three books instead of five, but it’s a solid YA fantasy series that I enjoyed.

 

6. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

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I actually almost missed this book as for some reason I thought I read it in 2015. But according to my blog, I did, in fact, read it this year. I really loved the concept of this book, and the writing style was enjoyable and easy to read. I don’t think it will age well as it is a reflection of our current attitudes and trends, so it will be a book that says something about a particular place and time. Which there is nothing wrong with as I’ve previously discussed. I read out a specific section to my husband about a man speaking about his last conversation on the phone with his co-workers and using corporate speak which I felt was so pointed and relevant. It’s an excellent book with a fantastic writing style and straddles the line between speculative fiction and literary fiction.

 

I realised that I completely forgot about reading some books in 2016 as I read around 50 books a year so this year I’m keeping a list and will keep you updated on what I’m reading fiction wise as you probably don’t want to hear about the self-help books I’m reading. What were your favourite books of 2016 and how did you discover them?

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 3)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores four of the short stories and how they approach the scenario. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Five Thousand Squares – Maree Kimberley

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Kaye and Micha are best friends who met at an arthritis support group. They are both much younger than your typical arthritis suffer and bonded over this. Politically they’re both on very different ends of the spectrum with Kaye joking to Micha she has a “socialist in there just screaming to get out”. Despite having differences politically, they both share a great fear that something bad is going to happen and begin prepping for it. Then the day comes when all their prepping comes in handy.

 

This story was really great as it gives little detail about the event proceeding it other than a passing mention of “regional wars” and Triparates winning the election. It doesn’t bog itself down in the details of the why but rather focuses solely on Kaye and her relationship with Micha as Kaye tries to escape the tidal wave with her two children.

 

The characters of Kaye and Micha were excellent and I honestly wanted to read more about them. The athritist is used cleverly as it the reason they manage to escape the tidal wave in the first place as Micha is awake at 4am which is “prime pain time”. It isn’t the main focus of the story but rather something that is always hovering there such as when Kaye is trying to escape and she describes the amount of pain she feels as she’s trying to get her kids out of the house. For anyone who’s ever experienced chronic pain or long term pain, this is fairly reflective of what it feels like. You only notice the extreme pain when doing strange things or if it’s higher than usual. You’re aware it’s there but it’s become part of your daily life that you stop actively thinking about it.

 

This was definitely one of my favourite stories out of the collection.

 

Portobello Blind – Octavia Cade

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Anna, a blind fourteen year old girl survives a plaque that wipes out most of humanity. She is stuck at a marine lab where her father was researching. The opening line “the worst part of the apocalypse was the sheer bloody boredom of it” is a heads up of what is about to come. Anna spends her days pretending she’s on a private tropical island resort to cope with the boredom and monotony of being alone and not being able to travel. You feel her helplessness which is partly because she’s a teenager and partly because she’s blind. She cries a lot as she tries to release sheep and lambs who are starving but fails, tries to find edible seaweed and screams into the satellite radio. The frustration and desperation is very well written that I was starting to wonder if the story would end with Anna killing herself but luckily Anna finds her inner strength after speaking to survivors over the radio. The ending is uplifting and hopeful which is a nice contrast to the rest of the story.

 

Tea Party – Lauren E Mitchell

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Tally was in a mental hospital when the world ended. Although it is not stated why Tally was there, it implies it as something to do with self-harm. A year after the world has ended and Tally is going shopping for the other patients on the ward. There are nine of them all together and Tally has become their defacto leader of the group. Tally is joined by ‘The Count’ who is referred to as they which confused me at first as I thought meant The Count had multiple personalities but then I worked out it meant The Count was non-binary.

Tally and The Count find a woman who was a nurse in the remnants of a hospital. Asking her name she replies “Florence” which The Count responds with “arrogant!” which I had a nice chuckle at. The nurse settles on Mary as her name. As Mary returns to the ward and realising she’s the only ‘sane’ person hesitates to join in their ‘tea time’ when all of the ward comes together and takes their meds with tea. Tally worries that she will take over and the ward will no longer need Tally. I felt like the underlying message that was never explicitly said was Tally was in the ward because they tried to kill themselves and that looking after the ward was easier than looking after themselves.

If I had to pick a favourite story out of the collection this would be it. It’s such a great riff on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with some apocalyptic flavouring. It portrayed mental illness in a realistic but sympathetic light.

 

Giant – Thoraiya Dyer

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Skye lives in a space station on the moon. She is the daughter of a scientist who went to the moon years earlier to study the Moltorians, an alien race who communicate in a strange language involving maths and chemical components. She attempts to communicate with the Moltorians via their language.

At the same time, a rescue mission to the moon is being coordinated by Hugo, the husband of one of the scientists. Shortly after the mission, the second American Revolution happened and the world was plunged into war.

It turns out Skye is the daughter of Hugo and Silja however as she was born on the moon and a contamination due to the Moltorians has accelerated her growth. Hugo is obsessed with bringing her home and Skye is obsessed with making contact with the Moltorians. This comes to blows in the finale of the story.

This one was interesting as I found Skye’s first person confessions to the digital journal which she was pretending was her mother slightly jarring compared to the reflective poetry of Hugo’s third person parts. However, it was a great way to show the contrast between the two characters.

Additionally, the saying “Supernova in a shitpump” was amazing and I laughed hard at that one. I’m hoping to use it in my additional vocabulary. Despite this story having broad ideas and a lot going on, ultimately it was dealt with much better than the previous stories with big ideas (see part 2).

Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Discarding survival of the fittest (Part 1)

This review contains spoilers for Defying Doomsday.

What If: the world ended and you had a disability or were chronically ill.

Defying Doomsday takes this “What If” scenario and explores it across fifteen short stories. Each story does this incredibly differently.  This post explores the first four short stories and how they approach the scenario.

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The Executions:

And the Rest of Us Wait – Corinne Duyvis

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Iveta is a teenage Latvian popstar sitting a shelter waiting out the apocalypse somewhere in Europe. She also has spina bifida. It is set in the near future where she has an electronic spinal implant to be able to walk. However, when the comet finally hits the earth the electromagnetic pulse knocks out her implant.

It explores the concepts of celebrity and the media portrayal of disability. For example, Iveta has a conversation with two other young women in the shelter who ask why she isn’t on a priority ark as she’s a ‘celebrity’. She brushes it off but in her narration she mentions how the world forgot her country as they prepared for the impact. The two young women also quiz her as to why she hasn’t got her wheelchair which Iveta says she only uses for performances which gets a big reaction as if she’s a faker. Iveta quickly clarifies that she only uses her wheelchair for performances so she could save energy and not have to worry about falling over. This conversation is often typical of people when discussing disability, especially when discussing accessible parking, permits and invisible disabilities.

The plot delves into the rationing of food and supplies. This quote probably sums up the general consensus of what many people would think in such a situation:

“It’s such nonsense. Special diets? Come on. It’s the end of the damn world. If even one percent of us end up surviving I’d call it a win.”

To distract from the situation (and as her own coping mechanism), Iveta begins performing songs with other girls to uplift the mood. While she gets some pretty nasty feedback, she takes it in her stride. She soon becomes a symbol of hope for many and the shelters organisers want her to break the news to people that they will no longer be catering for specific diets. She definitely tells everyone that equality means that we all have an equal chance, not that we all get the same.

It’s certainly not a subtle message but it’s a damn important one.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath – Stephanie Gunn

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Georgie’s sisters, Annalee and Eliza were born with cystic fibrosis. Annalee received a lung transplant a year ago but Eliza also needs a lung transplant. The story begins months after a flu epidemic when Eliza’s black phone, the one especially for contacting the transplant hospital rings. Georgie is convinced it’s just the phone glitching but after a message is left stating there is a transplant for Eliza. Annalee and Eliza convince Georgie to leave the relative safety of their mother’s farm and go into the city to the hospital.

To Take Into the Air My Quiet Breath explores the idea of survival through Georgie’s point of view rather than either of the sisters. Georgie is the one trying to keep everything together despite her own medical issues (she suffered severe burns as a child and is heavily scarred). It is an interesting dynamic that is often seen in older siblings or if one sibling is ill and the other is not.

During their journey into the city, Annalee’s body begins to reject the newly transplanted lungs and now Georgie must face the reality she may lose both of her sisters. That everything has an expiry date, including humans. Roses are used heavily as symbolism, the story starts with Georgie telling the story of a priest telling Annalee and Eliza that God put 65 roses in their chests. The ending finds them in a house with a beautiful rose garden, circling back that there may still be hope after all.

 

Something in the Rain – Seanan McGuire

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Holly and her cat Kaylee are the only survivors of toxic rain caused by melting polar ice caps. Holly has autism and mild schizophrenia and was recently pulled out of her school as she’d been mercilessly bullied. She was one of few people who saw the signs of the impending disaster and refused to go outside. It was the thing that saved her life. She has an established routine of going shopping at the local Target with a wagon, timing the storms and cleaning her house. She also still takes her medication regularly.

One day she runs into Cathy, one of the bullies from her school. Cathy is the first survivor Holly has met but she’s not very impressed with this turn of events. Cathy follows Holly home but immediately calls her weird, spaz, scitzo and insults Kaylee the cat. Cathy and Holly try to get along for a few days but Cathy commits the ultimate sin by letting out Kaylee. Holly insists she find the cat and Cathy gets her comeuppance.

This was one of my favourite stories in Defying Doomsday as it’s the ultimate revenge fantasy and I found Holly to be such a great character whose autism and narration is subtly inserted by the way she describes things and how she speaks to Cathy. Her survival was due to the unique way she saw the world which I really enjoyed.

 

Did We Break the End of the World? – Tansy Rayner Roberts

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Jin and Aisha are partners in crime and in silence. Jin is deaf and Aisha doesn’t speak. Together they move through houses as scavengers. Jin specialises in scavenging batteries, especially since he only has a limited supply for his hearing aid. The partnership between Jin and Aisha and how they communicate via basic sign language and body language is interested to read and gives a unique perspective on showing not telling.

On a routine scavenge, Jin and Aisha find graffiti in the house they are looting stating “Did we break the end of the world?” They both have been seeing this particular line popping up all over the city but neither can work out what it means.

They run into a teenage boy called Billy who specialises in scavenging art supplies. Jin is suspicious of Billy but also incredibly attracted to him.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the only survivors are teenagers as the suburb they were living in was specifically for foster children and robotic foster parents. Billy is the one painting “did we break the end of the world?” everywhere and he has a theory, that they’re part of some strange experiment and ‘the pulse’ was orchestrated by whomever was running the experiment to close it down. Except they survive and start their own version of society.

The ending doesn’t actually confirm if said conspiracy theory is true as the plot isn’t overly important as the characters in this story. Jin and Billy develop a romance that seems realistic and isn’t focused on either the fact that Billy is deaf or the fact they’re both boys. Kudos to Tansy Rayner Roberts for portraying a real relationship without harping on those two parts. I really enjoyed this story and I’ve got a secret hope that these characters will be revisited at a later date.

 

What do you think about the first for executions of this What If Scenario? Do you think that traditionally survival and post-apocalyptic stories over favour survival of the fitness rather than luck? Would you survive the apocalypse? Start a conversation below or share on social media.

Putting Brisbane and Australianisms into urban fantasy without cultural cringe

Vigil is a well written, tightly plotted urban fantasy. It explores deep themes of belonging and family without ever pausing it’s fast paced and tightly plotted story. With a well-rounded cast of characters, a likeable protagonist and writing that feels genuinely Australian without the cultural cringe, Vigil is an excellent read.

This review contains minor spoilers for Vigil by Angela Slatter.

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What If: There was a secret society of mythological creatures hanging out in Brisbane, Queensland.

 

I am going to admit my bias upfront: I am a born and bred Queenslander and have called Brisbane my home for over five years. My approach to reading Vigil came from an insider perspective as I frequent many of the places mentioned in the book. 

 

The Execution

Verity Fassbinder is the daughter of a Weyrd (supernatural) parent and one normal (human) parent. She no supernatural powers of her own but can walk between the worlds.

Verity tries to balance her Weyrd job of hunting creatures who threaten the normal in Brisbane with her own normal existence but the two refuse to stay separate.

Either it’s her new human boyfriend finding out about the dark things that lurk beneath Brisbane’s sunny veneer or her weyrd ex-boyfriend dragging her into life threatening situations (and intimating new boyfriend).

I attended the Brisbane launch for Vigil and Slatter was clear she wanted to write a distinctly Brisbane (and by extension Australian) urban fantasy rather than something generic. Cultural cringe in Australian fiction is ineluctable and yet there are very few times when the Australianisms used cause such cringe (the only time I personally cringed was when winnie blues were mentioned. This was more to do with my teenage experience with said winnie blues rather than Slatter’s writing).

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Setting

The thing that truly sets Vigil apart from many urban fantasies is it’s setting which is Brisbane.

 

If you haven’t visited Brisbane, Vigil paints a rather accurate picture (apart of the supernatural parts) of the culture and landmarks.

 

Brisbane is Queensland’s state capital. It is the third largest city in Australia. Queensland unfortunately gets branded as “the backwards state” compared to its larger counterparts (only by population) New South Wales and Victoria. I feel like Brisbane’s reputation as the capital of the backwards state and known as the “country town capital” works brilliantly as the setting for all things weyrd.

 

There is nothing generic about Brisbane as an urban fantasy setting, even if you were reading this as someone who has never even been to the city, you get the feeling the author knows it intimately and loves it despite all its flaws. I’d compare it to reading about New York City which is the setting for so many works of fiction and non-fiction, you can often tell people’s relationship with the city through their writing and it can often be a character of its own.

 

Slatter has managed to do this for Brisbane in Vigil.

 

Characters

Verity Fassbinder is the daughter of a kinderfresser who stole children for the affluent weyrd families. He was caught by the normal police twenty-three years ago and jailed as a paedophile. His actions almost exposed the weyrd to the normal society. Verity is constantly hounded by her father’s reputation every time she associates with weyrd society. She is also actively discriminated against as a “half breed”. Her abrasive and wise cracking personality developed due to this burden as well as knowing she has no family or no place where she truly belongs. She’s not a super special heroine like many urban fantasies, she’s just a woman who has an in-demand skill, does the job and goes home. Her age isn’t explicitly given but I’d guess she’s in her late twenties or early thirties based on a few facts thrown in.

 

Zvezdomire “Bela” Tepes is Verity’s ex-boyfriend and her boss. He works for the “Council” who try their best to watch over the weyrd. He’s incredibly handsome and incredibly old, he came from the ‘old country’ (somewhere in Eastern Europe that isn’t specifically named) and like many weyrd he has lived for a long time. Slatter decides to use the ‘young looking but actually old’ supernatural trope and turn it on it’s head. Without giving away part of the plot, there is no love triangle in this book and there is no back and forth ‘will they won’t they’ romance. It has a realistic view of a relationship between a young woman and a person who is hundreds of years old but looks young. Bela drives most of the plot in the beginning but steps aside in the second act as Verity come into her own.

 

Ziggi Hassman drives Verity around for the entire book. He technically works for Bela but he has a soft spot for Verity. The book doesn’t reveal much about him other than he drives a weyrd cab, loves cake and has a Taser. Despite the lack of details, the relationship between Verity and Ziggi is portrayed so well you feel like you know much more than you actually do.

 

David is Verity’s normal love interest. He’s a computer programmer and lives at the Woolstore Apartments at Teneriffe. I mention the apartments because I always drool over them and imagine what it would be like to live in them. It was almost like wish fulfilment.

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Themes

Belonging

Verity feels like she doesn’t belong in either the normal or the weyrd world and yet she stays in Brisbane because it is the closest thing to belonging she can find. She still lives in the home her grandparents left her and hasn’t changed much about it. It reflects that she only truly felt safe there with them and doesn’t want to leave even though they have long gone.

The setting is so important in this novel compliments the fact that despite everything, Verity believes Brisbane is where she belongs even if she never feels completely at ease in either society. The way Verity sees Brisbane with detail and loving familiarity reflects this.

 

Family

Verity feels so torn between the monster her father was and her deepest loving memories of him. Verity’s upbringing by her grandparents who loved her but slightly feared the weyrd half of her affected her in such a way she generally keeps everyone at a distance until they can prove multiple times they are loyal to her. Even then, Verity tends to pick up people who are like surrogate family – Ziggi is like a father figure and despite her romantic past with Bela, he’s almost like an older brother to her. Her neighbour Mel is like her sister which contrasts to Mel’s actual sister Rose who is a drunken mess who stole Mel’s husband. It feels like the message is that while family is important, your family isn’t always the closest blood relations.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Vigil is a well written, tightly plotted urban fantasy. It explores deep themes of belonging and family without ever pausing it’s fast paced and tightly plotted story. With a well-rounded cast of characters, a likeable protagonist and writing that feels genuinely Australian without the cultural cringe, Vigil is an excellent read.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Vigil is Angela Slatter’s debut novel. It is the first in a series with the second book to be released in July 2017.

 

Is Brisbane a great place for a fantasy setting? Is cultural cringe only an issue in Australia or for other cultures? Start a conversation by commenting below or sharing on social media.