The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina was December’s pick for the Diverse Scifi-Fantasy Book Club. An informal discussion will happen on December 30th – check the #DSFFBookClub hashtag to stay updated!
Reviews of SFF books need exposition, so bear with me as I provide context and set the stage.
In the distant future, society has resurfaced after surviving a cataclysmic event called The Reckoning, driven by climate change and the depletion of the world’s resources. The planet’s tectonic plates have shifted due to this calamity and created one large super-continent, reminiscent of ancient history, when the world was less burdened by humans and the damage they are wont to bring. This new civilization believes in an ideology called The Balance, which is centered around finding harmony with nature and respecting the earth – all brought on by the fear of instigating another global disaster.
This belief in The Balance eventually inspires laws that people live by, called Accords. One of them is the Benign Technology Accords, which was specifically created to prevent technology from spiraling out of control and leading to another disaster. The Accord most important to this story is The Citizenship Accords — this is where things get really interesting. It is unclear if humans with special powers/abilities (manipulating air, seeing into the future, creating fire, etc.) existed before The Reckoning, but in the present, some people are born with these powers and they are perceived as a danger to society. If person is born without powers, they are labeled a Citizen by the government once they pass a test proving they’re “normal.” People born with these abilities are labeled as such and held in detention centers, where their imprisonment is sold to them as being for the better good, for The Balance.
But of course no one wants to live like this! So, many young people with these abilities flee their communities before they’re tested so they may live freely. Once they rebel and escape the government’s grasp, they are considered Illegals and an imminent danger to society. Our protagonist, Ashala Wolf, is the leader of a specific band of Illegals who live in a lush forest called the Firstwood, which is aptly named for being the very first forest to rise from the ashes of the old world. The Firstwood is inhabited by giant, lizard-like creatures named Saurs. This is their territory and the only way they will accept Ashala’s tribe of Illegals is if they make a pact to never eat meat while they live in the Firstwood. The tribe agrees and finally has a home where they can be themselves!
That may seem like a lot of information, but it honestly was only exposition. One of the things I love about Fantasy, is all the world-building and the little details you have to learn and remember to make sense of the world. Some people do not like Fantasy for this very reason, but for Fantasy lovers, The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf does not disappoint in the world-building aspects. There are many nuances to the society in which the story takes place and the powers of the Illegals, which will only become more layered as the series progresses. Yes, this is book 1 in a trilogy. A good dystopian YA novel must have a trilogy, right? Maybe.
So, what happens after this long exposition I word-vomited all over your screen? Many exciting things that will keep you turning the page at lightning-speed! I’ll keep the conflict in the story very brief: Ashala is captured by a government Administrator named Neville Rose, who is determined put an end to Ashala’s tribe. He will do anything necessary to make this happen, even breach the Benign Technology Accords. Ashala will be betrayed by a dear friend and must survive a brutal and invasive interrogation that is meant to pull secrets from her mind to expose her Tribe. But Ashala is smart and has a brilliant plan up her sleeve. Your mind will be blown!
Reasons To Read This Book
Stories about kids with powers are always fun. Are you a fan of X-Men, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, Misfits, etc.? Then you’ll like this book! Ashala has the Sleepwalking ability, which is the coolest, and allows her to do practically anything while she’s in her sleepwalking mode – fight with superhuman strength, travel through objects, or essentially make her dreams come true! Other people can manipulate memories, move at lightning speed, start fires, and do all sorts of neat abilities. I’m eager to learn more about the origin of these powers and how they can be used in the real world in future books in the series.
Twists! Who doesn’t like a good twist in a story? There’s a pretty big one halfway through The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf. I’m not going to give anything away and you’ll never guess it, but let me reassure you that it was one of the most thrilling “aha” moments I’ve had reading YA this year and I’m sure you’ll appreciate it too.
It’s Australian YA with an Indigenous protagonist. Australia has some notable and popular YA books, but non-Australian YA bloggers probably won’t be able to name more than a handful. I am here recommending The Interrogation Of Ashala Wolf to you, which is a quality dystopian fiction that also has an Indigenous protagonist! The fact that Ashala is Indigenous is ancillary to the plot, but it does influence some elements of the story. We’ll see nods to the Aboriginal Australian belief of Dreamtime and creation stories like The Rainbow Serpent. This only makes the story more unique and memorable.
I highly recommend The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf to all fans of Dystopian Fantasy. Now you can’t say you don’t know any Australian YA outside of The Book Thief
Other reviews: Shay @ Required Reading
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