Jul 11, 2011

Book Review - Thyla by Kate Gordon

thyla_ARTWORK.qxd:Layout 1Thyla is Kate Gordon's second novel, but her first in the Paranormal YA genre.  Now I know that some readers have just turned away at the mention of paranormal and YA in the same sentence. 
Bare with me.

Thyla is a refreshing take on the genre, uniquely Australian and not infiltrated by any moralising subtext. There’s a touch of teenage romance but essentially it’s a high school, mystery adventure tale with a female protagonist sans any sparkly supernaturals.

The Story
Tessa is found collapsed and alone in Tasmanian bush land.  She wakes in a hospital bed, with little to no memory other than her name, and no idea how she got the scars across her back.  She’s placed into Cascade Falls, a private all girls school at the behest of a mysterious benefactor.  Her only friend is the policewoman Connolly, who has lost her own daughter only recently.

As the story unfolds Tessa becomes aware that things at Cascade Falls aren’t all that they seem.  On the surface it’s the typical boarding school experience, bitchy cliques – the popular girls vs the ferals.  Tessa falls in with the ferals, who are more easy going and accepting.  It soon becomes apparent, however,  that the ferals aren’t your average teenage girls, and neither is Tessa.  Battling  inconvenient amnesia and tribal conflicts,  Tessa begins to slowly piece together her life and her supernatural origins, just in time to combat the sinister Diemens.

Australian History on the sly.
I like Gordon’s choice to set this book in an Australian context, I love her use of early Australian convict history which I think really beds down the narrative and gives it an honest Australian flavour. There’s passing mentions of institutions and  places that are real, buildings whose original purpose may now be lost or at least unknown to 21st century teens – an invitation to interested readers to check out history in their own backyard (presuming of course they are Australian).

I also like her use of Australian animals for the were-creatures; notably the Thyla (Tasmanian tigers) and the Sarco (Tasmanian devils), tribal enemies until the Diemens(hinted at vampires) arrived at point of colonisation.  It’s a refreshing departure from regular European Vampire/Werewolf mythology which would have been an easy road to tread.

There’s a nice little bit of world building that encompasses a narrative of colonisation- the Thyla’s and Sarco’s remember a time when humans and they lived together in peace, before settlement and before the Diemens.  It would have been easy to have tapped into the earlier gothic traditions but I am glad Gordon didn’t, its nice to think that we have home grown were-creatures with a separate mythology.

No Vampire Hunks
One thing that niggled at me with Twilight was the sinister implications behind  the attraction of a 100 year old vampire to a teenage girl.  In Thyla, the romance (what little there is), is much better handled in terms of power dynamics.  Tessa might be an immortal teen but at least she’s attracted to other immortal teens.

Narrative mode
I found the narrative mode interesting-Tessa as the narrator (first person), directed at the character Connolly.  This can be a tricky mode to write in and get the balance right – nothing worse than being caught in a boring characters head.  Thankfully Gordon handles it well giving the reader an intimate account of Tessa’s adventures.

At only 279 pages and with an uncomplicated style it was a quick enjoyable read for me. I’d recommend it for ages 13 + and both genders, and while it does feature Tessa having her first period - certain to register as “too much info” for young male readers.  It also features well described conflict, bloodshed and death for the action fans.  I’d suggest it for those readers who want an original take on the Vampire/Werewolf myth.

Kate was nice enough to participate in my Authors and Social Media series of interviews. You can read her interview here .
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