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  • 1 person found this review helpful

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    An intriguing new dystopian novel

    I received this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review: unlike other submissions I accepted in the past, this one took a different path. The author is also a fellow blogger, and he built some anticipation for his book by sharing first an excerpt and then the cover art, an interesting – if puzzling, at the time – image that further piqued my curiosity. Children of the Different is a post-apocalyptic novel dealing with the aftermath of the Great Madness, a wave of murderous, virus-driven insanity that swept the globe some twenty years previously, whose victims fell prey to an unstoppable killing instinct. Apart from a number of people who proved to be immune – as it often happens with any kind of plague – the only ones to avoid the Madness’ effects were those who had previously exhibited mental problems of various gravity: they not only survived the infection, but their afflictions were cured. Those who did not fall into either category became Ferals: as the name suggests, they are little more than beasts attacking other people, killing them and feasting on their flesh. Now, all children born after the Madness undergo, once they reach puberty, a process called “the Changing”: they enter a comatose state in which they experience the Dreamland, a place of the mind capable of affecting the body as well, so that an injury sustained there shows in all its painful tangibility in the waking world. The Changing can bestow unique powers on those youths, or transform them into Ferals, who are driven away from the communities where they grew up. As the novel opens, young Arika just started her Changing, observed with huge trepidation by her twin brother Narrah, who is alternately worried for his sister and for the ordeal that will shortly claim him as well. The story unfolds following the twins’ experiences – both in the Changeland and in reality – while they slowly discover more about the world they live in, as it once was and as it is now: until their Changing they lived a very sheltered life in an isolated settlement, the only information about the outside provided by the elders of the community, and therefore lacking many important details that they need to complete the puzzle. Arika and Narrah’s path is both a coming-of-age journey and a quest, and a fascinating one at that, since it develops on several planes, due to the intermingling of reality and dream-state, without forgetting the peculiar powers that both of them gain from their Changing: here is where I finally comprehended the full meaning of the cover image, and where I understood my feelings of dread when I observed the figure of the echidna, the Ant-eater that keeps plaguing the young protagonists both in the material world and the dream state. The malevolent countenance and the red eyes of this creature struck me as totally evil on the cover, so that when it appeared in the Changeland, threatening the twins, it appeared even more of a danger than it would have from description alone. As far as dystopian novels go, this one was quite unlike my previous experiences, and it was a very welcome change: for starters, the Australian setting is unusual for the genre, and it adds a further dimension to the post-apocalyptic landscape, imbued as it is with some Aboriginal wisdom and customs, which give it a distinctive flavor in respect of similarly set novels. Then there are the main characters: forget the much-used (and abused) tropes of angsty youngsters, whining about the unfairness of the world or dealing with the equally ubiquitous love triangles – Arika and Narrah feel like real, flesh-and-blood teenagers, eager to take their place in the world and at the same time plagued with doubts and uncertainties, but strong enough to want to face any obstacle before them. Their courage comes from the awareness of the responsibilities they carry toward each other first, and then toward their community and, later on, the wider world; the love and the strong bond they share is the power that drives them forward through hardships and terror, and it’s a delightful and very real emotion to behold. The interweaving of reality and mind-scape is another fascinating side of this story, because it helps focus on the changes that the Great Madness brought to what remains of humankind: if the real world is scary enough, what with the constant threat of Ferals, or other humans preying on the weak, the Changeland is much worse, if nothing else because of its unpredictability and the opportunity for other, stronger minds, to affect it and create nightmarish dangers. Following the twins during their Changings, or the later visits they are compelled to pay to this dream-state, can be a disturbing experience, one that personally made me hold my breath more than once, such was the power of the images I found there. This is a novel primarily directed at a young audience, and as such it suffers a bit from the need of detailed exposition and the reiteration of
  • 1 person found this review helpful

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    Solid characters and a great setting

    It is nineteen years since a deadly brain disease called “the Great Madness” wiped out the majority of the world’s population. The human race is clinging on to what remains of life, living in sparse settlements dotted around the world, barely surviving. Inexplicably, the children of the survivors begin slipping into a trance at the onset of adolescence. This coma-like state is known as “the Changing.” In this altered state, the child experiences a challenging rite of passage as they journey through the dream-like “Changeland”. When they emerge from the Changing, they either display some kind of preternatural mental power or turn into “cannibalistic Ferals”. This dystopian tale set in south-western Australia tells the story of twin teenage siblings Arika and her brother Narrah. At the beginning of the book, Arika has just entered her Changing; Narrah has yet to experience his. During her trance, Arika encounters a malevolent “echidna” (had to look that up!) known as “the Anteater”. This creature appears to have the ability to control and shape the landscape of the Changing, and it quickly targets Arika. Children of the Different is an impressive debut by the author S. C. Flynn. I've read and enjoyed good YA books before, and this one reminded me of Chris Beckett's excellent Dark Eden. I loved the rural Australian setting, especially the Dreamtime-esque “Changeland”. There are some well-realised reality-bending scenes that take place there. The landscape often morphs and reforms into something else; depending on the actions of the character currently interacting with it. The teenage twins are interesting characters that grow with the story, especially as they try to come to terms with their emerging abilities. Some of my favourite scenes involve Arika discovering her new powers and using them. “She sniffed the air, sticking out her tongue as she did so. Why am I doing that? She wondered for an instant, and then she didn’t care anymore. That was what she did when she sniffed: she tasted the air. Of course she did. It tasted of lots of warm-blooded creatures nearby. [...] Her own blood was cool and slow and getting colder and slower all the time.” (Loc 1029) At times, the mood of the story is fairly bleak and disturbing, particularly when the author is describing the remains of civilization and the cities they used to inhabit. This crosses over into some of the sequences set in the Changing. In one scene early on in the tale, Narrah is lost in a tunnel during one of his trances. He finds himself stepping over the dead bodies of men, women and children who appear to have died in some kind of “frenzy”, no doubt due to the Great Madness. It is a dark and frightening scene, yet I enjoyed this darkness and felt it to be an essential part of the book, helping to enhance the atmosphere. The author contrasts these darker scenes with the brightness inherent in the relationships between the teenage characters. There is an innocence and purity to the twins deep caring for one another. This can also be seen in their interactions with some of the supporting characters, as well as with the surrounding flora and fauna. The only criticism I have is with the villain. It didn’t feel threatening enough, particularly in the first half of the book. But that is just my opinion. Overall this was an entertaining read with solid characters, a really good setting, and some nice twists to the plot. Recommended!
  • 1 person found this review helpful

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    Apocalyptic world

    Audiobook edit Review Setting: A post-apocalyptic world. Most of humanity is gone in the great madness. And there are Ferals, let's just call them fast "zombies" and you get the point. They will kill you. Different groups of humans live spread out, but we only get the scope on Australia. For all I know everyone else might be dead. Story: Twins Arrika and Narrah go into the changing. This means they either gets powers, or become Ferals. Life does suck. There are dangers in the Changelands that will follow you out. I can't say too much about the story, spoilers you know. But there will be a dangerous journey. Revelations. Learning more about what is left of Australia (at least this part of AU). There are some minor characters too, but this really is the twin's book, and their journeys. It was an interesting story that had me hooked. Narration: The narrator did a great job with the book. And here is where I should say more. But you good, good narration. Nice pace, kept me interested. What a good narrator should do. Conclusion: This was a good story, I liked listening to it, and I could easily stop in the middle of a chapter and pick up the next day (since that is how I roll). When it ended I felt like I would like to see more in this world, even if there was a good solid ending,
  • 1 person found this review helpful

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    Unexpectedly clever!

    This post-apocalyptic tale is set in Western Australia. 19 years ago, the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. Now when children enter their adolescence, they go into a trance-like state, entering the Changeland, and may come out of it fairly normal or a bit deranged and prone to cannibalism. Arika and her twin brother Narrah are at that age and their adventures in the Changeland will alter them, and perhaps their small society, forever. This tale was just a bit different from anything else I have read recently. First, I loved the setting and all the Australian animals that come into play throughout the tale. There’s even stromatolites! From dense forest to dry desert to cityscape to ocean-side village – this story covers a lot of ground. Then we have the Changeland, a place that can only be entered by your spirit through a trance-like state. Everything is warped in the Changeland. Sometimes a person sees images of cities healthy and whole before the Great Madness and sometimes a persons sees things as a they are now, but far, far from where they live. For both Arika and Narrah, they each run into the Anteater, which is like our Coyote trickster of the desert southwest here in the states. His motives aren’t clear until the end of the story, but he uses both charm and threats to set things in motion. While Arika in undergoing her Change, her brother is out of the village when he comes across Weiran, who used to be part of the village before he went a bit feral after his own Change. Narrah ends up captured by a group of city people and hauled away. Once Arika comes back to reality, she insists on going after him but she has to sneak away to do so. Turah, another childhood friend who now has strange prophetic abilities, goes with her. Both Arika and Narrah will have some harrowing experiences before they are reunited. Once they do, there is the task of taking one of the few remaining military bases in the area! The plot kept me guessing the entire time. There’s a little Mad Max action too when folks take some of the few remaining functional vehicles on the last jog of the story. This was an exciting story. At times, it was beautiful and strange, and at other times I was biting my nails in anticipation of what would happen to our heroes. The Changeland is an eerie, unpredictable place and adds an unexpected dimension to this post-apocalyptic tale. S. C. Flynn is an author to keep an eye on and see what he comes up with next. I received a copy of this book at no cost from the author in exchange for an honest review. The Narration: Stephen Briggs was a great choice for this tale. I loved his Australian accent he did for all the characters (except for the 1 or 2 minor characters who weren’t Australian). He also had this great gritty voice for this character Bowman who doesn’t show up until the second half of the story. Sometimes the volume did wiggle up and down a bit, but not so much I had to turn the volume down or risk ear damage. Over all, a great performance.
  • 1 person found this review helpful

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    Trippy and surreal

    Children of the Different is a young adult post-apocalyptic novel set in a future Australia. A disease has wiped out most of humanity, and the only people who survived were those who had something different about them mentally–i.e. psychic powers, brain damage, coma, etc. The protagonists are a set of twins who were born after the cataclysm. Arika and Narrah live in a small enclave of survivors. Because of the virus, children who hit puberty go into a trance-like state referred to as the Changeland, and come back from it with some kind of new power or ability. That is, if they don’t come back a zombie. Arika and Narrah have always had a psychic connection to each other. When Arika enters the Changeland, the connection is weakened, and both characters find themselves alone for the first time in their lives. And at the same time, they are thrust into situations where they need to rely on and trust each other in order to survive, all while feeling alienated from themselves as their minds and bodies change. The Changeland is so insightful into the feelings one has during puberty. We many not have psychic powers, but we all change as we grow up, and often without feeling ready for it. One of my favorite elements of Children of the Different was looking at how different groups of survivors responded to the apocalypse. Arika and Narrah are part of an enclave that saw technology as the cause of disaster, and so there was a back-to-the-land ethos that permeated every aspect of daily life. In his adventures, Narrah encounters a scientist who has brought together survivors in the hope of using technology to make the world better. And Arika uncovers an ocean-worshiping cult who believe that the secret to survival will come from the oldest forms of life. I loved this book. Children of the Different is trippy and surreal, and is a thought-provoking adventure.
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