“‘We’ve got to go back,’ she said.
‘Back where?’ Narrah looked shocked.
‘Into the Changeland.’
…’If we go back into the Changeland, perhaps we’ll find what we need while the memories are still strong.'”
Source: Review Copy
Publisher: The Hive
Date of Publication: September 10, 2016
Print Length: 227 pages.
When the world ends, it ends in madness, leaving few survivors and even fewer still considered human. Those who survive with their humanity intact live in fear of the technology believed to have caused the apocalypse and of the roving packs of cannibalistic “ferals” that comprise the rest. Yet life goes on, diminished but not defeated, if only in small settlements such as the one near the outskirts of Perth, Australia, where survivors have banded together into families of necessity, rather than biology.
Young Narrah and Arika have never known another life than this, neither a time when technology worked, nor a time of safety beyond the walls of their settlement. They’ve also never known a time without “the changing”, a coma-like sleep children fall into upon puberty, from which they either die or return changed, whether into mindless ferals or beings with bizarre and wonderful powers of the mind. Their friends Wirrah and Toura have already been to the” Changeland”, as it is called, one returning with an unnatural sense of danger, the other as prophetess whose prognostications are infallible. Yet Narrah and Arika are unique even in a world of the special, sharing a psychic link they refer to as “the path”, an ability inherited from their long dead parents. Fraternal twins who once shared a womb, they utilize this ability to communicate, whatever the distance between them.
While in the Changeland, Arika finds herself in a reality made up of memories of those who lived before the fall, and meets a malevolent creature who has taken the form of an echidna that preys on those undergoing the changing. It’s only through the intervention of Narrah (who is able to enter the Changeland by way of their psychic link) that they are both able to escape. When she awakes, Arika gradually discovers she can mimic the senses and abilities of myriad animals. Locked up by the settlement’s inhabitants for fear she may become feral, Arika uses her newly found powers to escape and flees with Toura to find Narrah, who has been kidnapped by the City people (those who still believe in science and technology). Little does she (or Narrah) know, but he’s essential to them by way of the gift he receives on his own journey to the Changeland. Arika and Narrah, with the help of their childhood friends and the City People, will embark on a journey to unlock the past to save the future.
When evaluating whether I’ve enjoyed a novel, I like to imagine the process as akin to a balance, with one arm representing the mechanics of the prose (how well it’s written), the other representing the plot (the framework of the story), and the fulcrum upon which they rest as my resulting enjoyment. Topple the balance one way or the other and as a reader, I come away dissatisfied. It’s an especially tricky tightrope to walk (just like mixing metaphors) when the novel has been self published. In such cases, my balance is relatively flexible, in that I’m willing to forgive rough prose or a loosely developed story as long as its counterpart shifts the balance into equilibrium. Such is the case with S.C. Flynn’s Children of the Different.
The dystopian novel is a well-worn genre in literary circles, whether it be the post apocalyptic world Stephen King’s The Stand, or perhaps more appropriately to our subject, John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids*. In Flynn’s case, he’s travelling well trodden dystopian ground, what with the apocalyptic plague of madness, the loss of technology (and irrational fear of it), the hero’s journey, exemplified in both Narrah and Arika and their individual storylines that inevitably converge, and of course, the idea of the chosen one (or two) whose path may lead to salvation. Yet these obvious tropes are manipulated with skillful effect to engage the reader (at least this one) in Narrah and Arika’s exploits, and at the end of the day, leaves the reader wanting more of their story. It’s not that the plot remains unresolved, but that much of the story falls outside the margins of what we’re allowed to see. There’s much more to the history of the madness and what led up to it, more of the tale of the twin’s parents and their special connection, and especially, more of Arika and Narrah, whose story is both resolved—yet not—at the end of the novel. Personally, I’d like to know it.
The other end of the balance is where Children of the Different finds some hurdles to overcome. At times the author can be overly verbose, specifically regarding the chase scenes, which tend to come across as overlong. It’s a situation where the use of a professional editor would be useful to tighten the pacing and guard against the aforementioned verbosity while retaining the author’s voice. Yet it is a quibble rather than criticism, as Flynn’s story more than makes up for the deficit of brevity. However, as a reader, I must admit to a certain bias regarding concise writing, preferring an economy of words, especially with regards to Young Adult novels, for fear of intimidating the reader. So it’s a subjective rather than objective criticism, and in the final analysis, the balance between writing mechanics and entertaining story is kept.
Children of the Different is a Young Adult post-apocalyptic novel by S.C. Flynn, an Australian ex-pat currently living in Ireland. He maintains a blog at scflynn.com. Children of the Different is his debut novel, and I look forward to his future endeavors.
*note to self—sit down and read your copy of The Chrysalids.