Joelene Pynnonen

On Monday night, Avid Reader bookstore in West End held its monthly Science Fiction and Fantasy Bookclub. Fittingly, July’s book is set in Brisbane, with a several major events happening in the heart of West End. Vigil is the first book in Angela Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series. If you haven’t heard of this series yet, take a look at my review of the first novel – linked below. If, on the other hand, you’ve already read the epic first novel, book two, Corpselight, is in stores now.

Hosted by renowned speculative fiction author, Trent Jamieson, the Avid Reader SF&F Bookclub is held on the last Monday of each month. I’ve been meaning to get to one for some time now, but have been hampered by work, life and everything in between. Monday night was an insight into how much I’m missing out. I was lucky enough to start my bookclub experience with the author present, which gave a whole new perspective on the series. With a couple of bottles of wine and an intelligent circle of readers, we delved into the intricacies of Verity Fassbinder’s Brisbane.

Trent Jamieson is a wonderful and organised host. He had done enough research to know about Angela Slatter’s myriad of awards, but was shrewd enough to stop listing them all before the dawn. Instead, we acknowledged that Angela Slatter’s shelves are more likely to bow under the weight of literary appreciation than the weight of her books, and moved on.

Important questions were asked. Like, ‘Where can we obtain our own personal David?’ Answers to that question, sadly, were not forthcoming and we had to resign ourselves to David-less lives.

For anyone wondering whether the Brisneyland setting was always meant to be, the answer is yes. Before Vigil fledged into a novel, Brisbane was a part of it. In the final version, Brisbane is the lifeblood of Vigil, a character that acts as glue for all other characters. And, for fast readers, the big question of the night was when the third book, Restoration, would be out. Mid-2018, guys. We’re going to have to find another series to tide us over.

Vigil is a wonderful and highly imaginative urban fantasy novel that sweeps a reader along on an epic adventure. Sometimes when caught up in that rush of a fantastical novel, it’s difficult to think of the process it took to become the final polished product in your hands. Talking with Angela Slatter about this process both disabuses and reaffirms this idea.

On one hand, you can see the depth of thought that has gone on behind the scenes. Especially in working with an understanding of cultural appropriation. Vigil may be wholly Australian, but Slatter makes it clear that she doesn’t consider Indigenous stories hers to tell. There’s also the difficulty of working in a supportive love interest who doesn’t take over the story but isn’t a damsel-in-distress trope either.

But then, on the other hand, there’s that aspect that’s just the magical way synapses fire up on new ideas, catching and holding them until a story demands them. Discovering that a person believes that a glass of water under the bed will snatch away nightmares might fuel a story for Slatter. A name on a headstone – imaginary at that – might spark the heart of an entire collection of short stories.

Corpselight was already the next book on my reading list, but with the fascinating tidbits I found out at bookclub, I’m that much more anxious to get to it.

Review: Vigil by Angela Slatter

 

Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.

kimberley-rat-city-cover-600wShannon Dane has tried to keep a low profile ever since his best friend died in an incident that Shannon might have prevented. When a gorgeous girl (Ally) from school approaches, asking him to give her brother a textbook, Shannon changes his mind about staying off the radar. At first he might only be hanging out with Felix to be closer to his hot sister, but things change.

Felix is a nerd and oddly emotional at times – as well as having weird hoarding tendencies – but he’s also loyal, insanely clever and interesting. Ally isn’t just gorgeous; she’s adventurous, astute and self-possessed. Best of all, neither Felix or Ally have any interest in the rumours surrounding the fate of Shannon’s dead best friend.

They have enough problems of their own. As Shannon moves further into their world, he begins to realise that they’ve got things going on that make his problems look tame. And Ally is afraid that if they don’t tackle the “issue”, it will grow into something that none of them can control.

Rat City is the debut Young Adult novel of Brisbane author, Ree Kimberley. As always, it’s lovely to read a local author. While Rat City isn’t specifically set in Brisbane, the novel does have a familiar Australian feel in the way characters speak and their interactions.

The novel plays with quite a few genres, most notably horror, sci-fi, romance and mystery. For me, the mystery side was a little lacking but the sci-fi and romance plot-lines are solid. It’s refreshing that Shannon doesn’t immediately drop everything to please Ally. That when she starts seriously considering breaking the law, he’s not willing to go along with it.

In the novel, Rat City is what Ally and Felix call their uncle’s dilapidated, rat-infested mansion. Considering the book title and the way the characters talk about the place, I was expecting that when the place made a proper appearance in the novel, it would be overwhelming. The atmospheric build up to Shannon’s foray into Rat City is done well. It makes the place seem dark and threatening. Not much of the novel takes place in Rat City though, and I think that this is quite a missed opportunity.

I adore rats, so the fact that the plot revolves around their intellect and resilience is a highlight. Their behavioural quirks are only touched on in Rat City, so hopefully it’s something that will be further explored in future novels.

While this is a Young Adult read, it’s certainly suitable for more advanced middle grade readers. It leaves the door wide open for a sequel, but doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger. With the crossed genres, this is sure to appeal to a wide variety of readers, so anyone looking for a new series should give this a go.

 

Rat City – Ree Kimberley

Pronoun Books (2016)

ISBN: 9780995387003

Joelene Pynnonen

Joelene Pynnonen embraces the life of an avid book lover in every way. Her household is ruled cruelly by a wrathful cat; and should a fire ever start it is doubtful that she would make it past the elegant stacks of novels to her room door. At least once a year she coerces her mother into watching the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice with her, and will often follow up by re-reading the book.

slatter-vigilHuman children are going missing around the city. The Weyrd population is worried that another paranormal butcher might be at work and history might be repeating. Verity Fassbinder is determined to find whoever is behind the disappearances. Years earlier her father had been discovered carving local children as delicacies for those who had not grown out of the taste of flesh. Some of his clients are bound to still be around and if they are sourcing human meat from a new butcher, they need to be found before they expose the Weyrd community to the world.

On top of that, the mangled bodies of Sirens are falling from the sky; some strange new beast is decimating civilians – Weyrd and human alike – and it looks as though a plot against the rulers of the Weyrd world is in play.

Vigil is Angela Slatter’s first novel. Set in Brisbane, it follows Verity Fassbinder, a woman whose life has been a study in balancing her right to autonomy against her self-appointed vigil for her city. It’s rare that I manage to find an urban fantasy set in my home city, let alone one as compelling as this.

Being more interested in the story than the packaging, I rarely comment on cover art, but here I’ll make an exception. The cover of Vigil is one of the most stunning pieces that I’ve seen in years. Even if I were not already a fan of Slatter’s work, I would have looked into this novel. It suits the story as well; atmospheric, dark and lovely.

I’ve loved several of Slatter’s books of short stories, and was delighted when I found out that she had a novel coming out. Her writing style is unlike anything that I have come across before. She has a deft way with words that makes each line, paragraph and scene she writes say so much more than any other writer I’ve read. This writing style is echoed in Vigil, but the novel is very different to her other works.

The mythology in Vigil is beautiful. It may touch on Greek, Roman, Biblical and other myths, but Slatter has re-imagined the old tales in entirely new ways and then laid them over the glass, concrete, and metal fabric that is Brisbane. In many ways, it has the feel of a modern tale from the brothers Grimm, but one that is more concerned with character than with plot.

Which isn’t to say that the plot is inadequate. If anything the plot is too epic for our sleepy city. It’s the sort of storyline that belongs somewhere far more ancient and cultured. In this newly imagined Brisbane, however, it fits.

The characters are simply more gripping than the plot for a myriad of reasons. While they don’t all have tightly woven relationships, they do slot together in their own ways as neatly as a jigsaw. The interactions are natural and immensely readable. The motivations, too. Verity’s guilt for the actions of her father and her need to work at protecting the city even at risk to her own life makes her story an absorbing one.

This is a wonderful start to a new series. With richly imagined characters, setting and mythology, it is the perfect read for those who enjoy urban fantasy.

 

Vigil – Angela Slatter

Jo Fletcher Books (July 7, 2016)

ISBN: 9781784294021

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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