Along my reading journey, I’ve made a conscious decision to not only read the books on the shelves at my local Barnes & Nobles store, or online at Amazon, but to also try self-published, or indie, works as often as I can.
Now, I know several of you are snickering in the background or rolling your eyes at my idiot crusade to bring a few good indie works to light. And, believe me, I understand why you’d do that. Several years into this, I have to admit that I’ve probably stopped reading more indie faire than I’ve finished, but those that did keep my attention were — or had the potential to be — above average stories, and I’d like to occasionally share those in the hope that you might also discover them.
So without any Stephen King disclaimers (Read my review of The Dark Tower Book VII to get the joke), let me introduce you to S.C. Flynn’s Children of the Different!
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: The Hive (September 17, 2016)
Length: 318 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
Children of the Different is a different flavor of post-apocalyptic, dystopian YA faire. In fact, for many, it might be a welcome change of pace from the much used (and, perhaps, over used) trope of angst-ridden teenagers whining about the patent unfairness of life while having to untangle themselves from messy love triangles . . . and save the world, of course. Thankfully, Mr. Flynn avoids that tried and true narrative, offering up as a gift to readers a fantastical tale, which – while still a coming-of-age tale – delivers enough creative touches, adds enough unique elements, to transform the familiar into the unexpected.
Our guides for this journey are twins Arika and Narrah. These two teenagers have grown up in Western Australia about two decades after “The Great Madness” which killed nearly all of humanity. Those who survived this extinction level event are either beast-like Ferals (Think zombie but really, really fast) or survivors whose mental health problems were cured by the illness. Around them has grown up a new world of isolated settlements scattered across a barren landscape. Ferals run wild across the sparsely inhabited land. Technology is almost non-existent. Civilization is minimum at best. And “The Great Madness” still haunts everyone. Only now it strikes the teenagers of the world and is called “The Changing”; adolescents entering a comatose state, while their consciousness visits a dreamland that is very real: injuries or death there replicating in the real world. This journey of the soul ending with the new adult turning Feral and being driven away from his/her home or awakening with unique powers.
As Children of the Different opens, Arika has entered her “Changing.” Her brother Narrah is terrified for her and for himself: his changing is yet to come. The story shifting between the otherworldly Changeland and reality itself. The twins having to work together to evade a mythical creature called the Anteater, whose malevolent presence, insidious threats and tantalizing promises mars both realities, twisting and turning them as they desperately attempt to prove themselves worthy of being adults yet are plagued by uncertainty, fear, and doubts. Arika and Narrah holding fast to their bond of familial love; this dedicated relationship to one another helping them brave dangers neither could survive alone. Their path leading them ever deeper into a widening pathway toward maturity, knowledge, and, perhaps, the beginning of a new world.
What sets Children of the Difference apart from other post-apocalyptic stories is Mr. Flynn’s imaginative concepts, which mixes fantasy and Aboriginal mythical elements into a classic young adult narrative of self-discovery; the pinnacle of which is the Changing. This very ethereal, mysterious, dream-like reality allowing Mr. Flynn to show the past, the present, defy the laws of nature, and keep readers on the edge of their seats when they realize anything and everything can happen in this other place. Sure, post-apocalyptic aficionados might be adjusted to seeing dystopian worlds filled with man-eating zombies (Ferals), or Mad Max-like humans, but the unpredictable and nightmarish dangers of this unknown dimension are new, exciting, and create instant tension.
All stories succeed or fail along with their lead characters however. At least, that is my opinion. I mean, cool dystopian societies, stellar action, interesting magic, and nail biting tension can only take a tale so far. Thankfully, Narrah and Arika are capable of carrying the weight of this novel upon their young shoulders. The twins strong, loving bond and their very realistic determination to overcome obstacles while still being terrified at the same time makes them so true to life that it is easy to empathize with them and want to follow along behind them to see whether they succeed or fail in their journeys. And they somehow do all this without any love triangle? Who knew that was even possible in YA anymore?
The only criticism (silly as it may sound) is the young adult nature of some of the narrative. What I am specifically referring to is how certain key narrative concepts are explained over and over again. Not that this is an unusual occurrence plaguing only Children of the Different. Actually, I’ve noticed it in many Ya works that I have read in recent years. Maybe, this need to reiterate key information is a necessary and accepted part of writing for this genre. If that is so, I suppose, my dislike of this tendency is merely a personal dislike on my part, which no one else should concern themselves with.
Overall, S.C. Flynn’s debut novel is an imaginative success, fully realized in every way, easy to digest, and utterly enjoyable to read. Strange yet beautiful, it transports readers to a post-apocalyptic world where familial love still thrives even in harsh, brutal circumstances. And I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting this author’s future work.
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank him for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.