Children of the Different
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I received a free e-book of this title direct from the author in exchange for an honest review. I have had online contact with Stuart for about a year and a half, and was one of the subjects in a series of interviews he did with writers, reviewers, and other bloggers. Most, if not all of those people, including myself, are mentioned in the Acknowledgement section at the end of this book. None of that has influenced this review.
There are different ways to judge books; how well is the premise presented, how interesting are the characters and are they well developed, how logical is the plot? Another would be, how compelling is the narrative itself? How quickly did I read it? Did I fight off sleep because I had to find out what happened next? Based on that last criteria, I have to rate Stuart Charles Flynn's debut novel, Children of the Different, higher than I might for the other categories. Some of the characters are interesting, others not as well defined, even stereotypical. The plot has some holes, but most can be overlooked since Flynn himself describes this as fantasy, which doesn't have to adhere to logic as science fiction should. I don't normally give a numeric rating for books here, but I do on Goodreads. Their system is for 1-5 stars, no half stars allowed. The average rating from eight others was already 3.78. I considered rating it 4 myself, then looked at other books I had given that score, and didn't think this one compared as favorably, so I selected 3, although my true rating would be closer to 3.5.
Speculative fiction has seen several different tropes and trends come in and out of fashion over the years. One of the most enduring is the post-apocalyptic scenario, more recent is a fascination with zombies or related creatures. The setting is Western Australia, some twenty years after a disease known as the Great Madness killed a majority of the population. The few survivors either escaped (noticeable) contamination, or else devolved into violent, cannibalistic Ferals. We later learn the Madness was inadvertently caused by a drug produced to counteract a viral weapon developed by a foreign power. The adult survivors apparently had some neurological abnormality which negated the effects of that drug. The parents of twins Narrah and Arika were among those survivors, although they were later killed by a person or persons unknown, when the twins were five. Now they are thirteen, approaching puberty. For reasons unknown, children born after the Madness go into a coma around puberty, emerging from the Change either with special mental powers, or else transformed into a Feral state. Even before their Change, the twins had exhibited telepathic abilities with each other, which they refer to as the Path.
It is common that girls experience puberty earlier than boys, so it is Arika who enters the Changeland first. Perhaps due to their telepathic bond, Narrah is able to enter that state with her, without it being his personal Change too. Later, she is able to do the same for him, and they both help the other through the ordeal. Both emerge from the Change with special powers, which I won't describe to avoid spoilers, except to say they are almost X-Men mutant level phenomena. What Arika can do would make sense if it was only in the alt-world of Changeland, but in the real world? A little harder to accept. Another thing that is puzzling is that not only can the twins enter each other's Changeland experience, they are also later able to enter Changeland at will, when before I thought that was a state each child experienced only once.
The real world events concerning the search for a cure play out more like an action story, and that's when stereotypical characterizations take over. Many people might equate the Ferals with other zombie books or films, my mind went more toward Firefly's Reavers, since they were also created through a drug gone wrong. The main villain reminded me of Colonel Quaritch, Stephen Lang's character in James Cameron's Avatar. Not sure how and why he and another adult could also infiltrate the twins' Changeland experiences, but these few quibbles aside, I still recommend this. The adventures of Narrah and Arika are dangerous and exciting, with the best written passages being when they are in Changeland. Those are described with fever dream intensity, and the book would have been better with more scenes set there. Not sure if there will be a sequel to this, although it's not necessary. I could be content to visualize a continuation myself. We don't know if the cure is successful, just that they think they have what is necessary to complete it. Plus, the cure is for a malady that hits teenagers after their Change, not the Madness itself. That would mean all children would still continue to Change, so there's no telling what powers others might exhibit. If Stuart ever writes that, I'll definitely be interested in reading it.
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