Review: Land Of Fences by Mark Smith

9781925773583“It’s difference they’re scared of — anyone with dark skin, a different religion, a strange language.”

And so we’ve reached the end of Mark Smith’s brilliant Winter trilogy. Part survival thriller, part post-apocalyptic romance, part coming-of-age tale, Smith’s series has never been anything less than engrossing, spiced with moments of nerve-shredding tension and breathless action, and enriched by probing social commentary. Land Of Fences takes this to a whole new level, as mankind looks to rebuild after its decimation from a virus.

Streetlamps now flicker to life. There is the occasional  guttural raw of a reappropriated truck. The government — whoever that is — have commandeered the airwaves. And the ragtag military has mobilised, splitting the landscape into quarantined and unquarantined zones. Order is being restored; we are witnessing the birth of a new civilisation. But it comes with a heavy price. “Siley’s” — asylum seekers are being forced into slavery to foster the development of this brave new world. Society is more divided than ever. It threatens to keep Finn and Kas apart. If they let it.

Like Marsden’s epic Tomorrow series, Mark Smith’s Winter trilogy is destined to be a classic. Land of Fences is an adrenaline-pumping finale, bursting with timely themes and lasting resonance thanks to its credible, nuanced young characters. For adolescents and adults alike, it is truly unmissable.

ISBN: 9781925773583
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 4-Jun-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Wilder Country by Mark Smith

9781925498530.jpgThe sequel to Mark Smith’s The Road to Winter is a page-turner with a heart and soul, tightly packed with exquisitely rendered action and nail-biting scenes of peril, all layered with emotional authenticity. Wilder Country is an exceptional tale of young people forced to grow up too soon, take on responsibilities far beyond their purview, and make decisions nobody should have to.

The severe winter has prohibited the Wilders — a violent band of plague-survivors — from closing in on Finn, Kas and Willow. But with the arrival of Spring comes the acceptance that the peace and relative tranquillity of the last few months is over. The Wilders will be hunting for the trio, lead by the savage Ramage, who will stop at nothing for revenge following the events of The Road to Winter. But even with that looming threat, Finn and Kas have not forgotten the promise they made to Rose — to find her baby, Hope, and bring her back. That vow will force them directly into a confrontation with the Wilders, but in a ruined world, honour matters more than anything else, and Finn and Kas will stop at nothing to see their promise fulfilled.

Maintaining echoes of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, author Mark Smith pulls out all the stops, propelling readers on an  action-packed, wild ride with unexpected twists and turns, and vitally, characters readers care about. Wilder Country doesn’t shy away from difficult truths and important moral lessons resultant of a dystopian society, and on more than one occasion the young characters have to battle with the concept of right and wrong, and whether the laws of the old world are amenable with their new reality. Kas seems more willing and able to adapt to the new ways, where might makes right, whereas Finn is more reluctant to pull the trigger. The dynamics of their relationship is what makes the novel shine.

As compelling as its predecessor, and respectful of the capacity of its readers, Wilder Country pulls no punches, and is a pulse-pounding, addictive page-turner full of depth and emotion.

ISBN: 9781925498530
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 28-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

 

 

Review: The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

9781925355123It’s always dangerous, in my mind, coming out of the gate with a first novel in an intended young adult series, and immediately comparing it to one of the pinnacles of Australian YA: John Marsden’s Tomorrow series. But that’s precisely what Text Publishing has done with Mark Smith’s The Road to Winter. And y’know what, though I hate to admit that I saw a slither of truth any marketing shtick, I’ve got to say: the comparison, in this case, is earned. But at the same time, it feels like a novel crafted for that same audience – by which I mean, it’s aimed at the ‘older’ end of the YA spectrum, and based on some of its content, is possibly better suited to an adult audience. Which puts me in a tough spot: as a reader, I loved The Road to Winter, would highly recommend it, and reckon you should reserve a copy at your local independent bookshop. As a bookseller, I’m a tad perplexed as to who’d I’d pitch this to. On the one hand: a visceral book about survival, packed with plenty of action, and a dash of romance – perfect for a YA audience! But when it delves into pregnancy and childbirth, I’m suddenly not so sure…

A couple years back, a deadly virus – and the consequent violence – wiped out most of humanity. Sixteen-year-old Finn lost his parents and his whole community, and since then he’s lived alone with his dog Rowdy in his hometown on the coast. He has survived thanks to his father’s preparations, and an uncanny knack for hunting and fishing. Seriously, Bear Grylls has got nothing on this kid. But starvation and injury aren’t the only threats out there: there are other survivors, some of whom don’t care to trade their wares; a particularly nasty crew called the Wilders, led by the ruthless Ramage. So far, Finn’s stayed out of their way, kept to himself, a lonely, but contented existence.

Until! (Because there’s always an until!)

One day Finn comes across a girl on the beach. Her name is Rose, and she is a Siley – an asylum seeker – who is on the run from Ramage. She was on the run with her sister Kas, but the two got split up during their escape, and now she needs Finn’s help to find her. It’s not that Rose is unwilling to do the job herself: she’s just in no condition to be stalking through bushland. So Finn agrees to help this girl she barely knows – and her sister – and in doing so he paints a target on his back. And Ramage isn’t the kind of guy you want hunting you down.

Finn’s a brilliant protagonist: your typical sixteen-year-old Aussie kid who flits between vehement self-assuredness and typical teenage uncertainness. This is a kid who has survived two winters on his own, is obviously very capable and courageous; on the other, he’s wounded by the remnants of the life he once knew, and the death of his parents. He’s tough on the outside, sure – but there’s a sympathetic undercurrent he’s rarely had need to let slip since the virus decimated humanity.

The Road to Winter is unashamedly the start of a longer epic. It sets up the pieces, provides insight into the world, and will leave readers desperate for the next chapter in the characters’ lives. I loved it, and reckon plenty of others will, too – I’m just not sure how many of those readers are going to be in the YA bracket. Could be I’m out of touch with that audience – I am not an avid reader of the genre, and you might well be reading this thinking, You idiot! YA is supposed to push the boundaries! So I guess I’ll wait to see how that audience responds. Hopefully resoundingly – I want sequels!

But removing the bookseller part of my brain, as a reader, who cares nought for genre or intended audience: The Road to Winter is great. Fast-paced, relentless, poignant. What more could you want?

ISBN: 9781925355123
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: Australia