Monday, November 25, 2013

Two new NZ fiction titles reviewed by Mandy Hager

Birthright”, by T. K. Roxborogh (Penguin NZ) is the final in Tania Roxborogh’s Shakespeare inspired Banquo’s Son Trilogy, which tells the story of Fleance, son of Banquo from Macbeth. In Birthright, Fleance is the now beleaguered king of Scotland, fighting to save his crown, his people, his family, and his love. It is a fitting conclusion to an excellent series and should leave all who have followed this story through feeling very satisfied.

The book is told from a variety of points of view, including Fleance (our hero), Rosie (his great love), Rachel (his queen), Robert Graham (his enemy), Bree (his disgruntled young sister-in-law) and the three witches (who link it strongly to the story of Macbeth.) In short, well written sections, each narrator helps unfold a tale of deceit, intrigue, war and love, to bring about a very satisfying immersion into the world of medieval Scotland.

The research is seamless and never gets in the way of the story, while the tone and multiple voices all feel very authentic and believable. There is a cleanness to the writing that allows emotions to rise to the surface and a frankness that makes it feel very real. People need to slip off for a pee in the story, or stink of toil and war. It doesn’t gloss over the trials of childbirth either, or the horror and waste of lives brought about by the power plays of the ruling class. Yet it’s never so gory or disgusting that it distracts, merely adds an extra narrative dimension that makes it a more memorable and fully immersed experience for the reader.
This is a world class book that deserves wide readership, both by its intended YA audience and for any adult who likes a well written and moving historical novel.

‘The Score” by Adrienne Jansen (Escalator Press 2013). The Score, is the first offering from Whitireia’s new publishing venture Escalator Press and, if it is anything to go by, this is a publisher worth watching out for!
It tells the story of a disparate group of immigrants and misfits who share life in a high rise council block as they come together to help salvage a grand piano that’s been accidentally dropped from a crane on its way to be repaired.

This is a beautiful and compelling study of a group of people not often represented in NZ literature — the kinds of people who don’t get any breaks in life;  who battle with the consequences of finding themselves at the bottom of the social barrel. What really touches the reader is the warmth and compassion they discover for each other, and the slow dawning of hope as their unlikely alliance offers each person back their sense of self.

I think this is Adrienne Jansen’s strongest novel to date (which is saying a lot!) The writing is spare and strong, the characters all unique yet recognisable, and the heart of the book is a thing of beauty: a reflection on our shared humanity and a reminder of the power of kindness. 

About the reviewer:
Acclaimed young adult fiction writer Mandy Hager has been awarded the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship for 2014.
Mandy Hager has written eight novels, as well as short stories, scripts, and non-fiction resources for young people. She won the Esther Glen Award for Fiction for her novel Smashed and Best Young Adult Book in the 2010 NZ Post Book Awards for The Crossing, the first book in the popular ‘Blood of the Lamb’ trilogy. Her 2012 novel, The Nature of Ash, was a finalist in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in the Young Adult Fiction category, and won the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction award. Her latest book, Dear Vincent (2013), about painting, suicide and Vincent Van Gogh, was written with the support of the 2012 Beatson Fellowship.

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