*This review is part of a series of reviews #weneeddiversebooksAU
**Teachers notes for this title are available here.
The bulk of the references in this review are to The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf to avoid spoilers from The Disappearance of Ember Crow. The third book in the series The Foretelling of Georgie Spider comes out September 2015.
One of the things I loved most when I first read The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf some years ago, that still struck me on my recent reread, was its ability to surprise. Without giving too much away, the premise and the plot twists are clever and unexpected and this is just as true for The Disappearance of Ember Crow.
Kwaymullina’s books are clearly influenced by her own history, ideas and experiences, but her writing rebels against being A Lesson. This is real diversity – where readers can see writers and characters from diverse backgrounds in all stories, not only playing the part of The Indigenous Character. I remember hearing Ellen van Neerven talk about the freedom that writing speculative, or non-traditional fiction gives to Indigenous authors, and I wonder if these ideas are connected. Speculative fiction removes politically charged themes from the ‘now’, giving them space to breath in another place, pushing characters beyond their Single Story, and allowing readers to discuss them without feeling the need to attack or defend.
Ashala Wolf is the leader of the Tribe, a group of young runaways with ‘abilities’. In this post-apocalyptic world where the Balance (‘the inherent harmony between all life’) is maintained by a set of Accords, ‘other’ is not defined by race or religion, but by whether or not someone has an ability. Ashala’s is Sleepwalking – in a dream state she is able to shift the reality around her. Her younger sister Cassie was a Firestarter, killed as a child when a group of Enforcers came to escort her to a Detention centre, the mandatory home for people with abilities. Ashala and her friend Georgie run away, escaping to the Firstwood where they build a refuge for themselves and others like them. But the Tribe will never be safe until they are no longer the target for humanities fear.
Ashala has a lot in common with Obernewtyn‘s Elspeth. Strong willed, independent, protective. A born leader. She is introduced at her most vulnerable, when she is being led away to interrogation. She believes that she is alone, and afraid of betraying the members of her Tribe. She is a character who carries the isolation of being a leader with her, although she values her friendships dearly. Ashala is descended from the Serpent, one of several earth spirits who appear in the series (in The Disappearance of Ember Crow we meet the First Cat). She is a rich and complex character whose journey connects her as much to her past as to her present. As she explores her own relationship to the world before the Reckoning, the reader can see the connections between this future and their present. What would it take to take us there?
You genuinely believe we’re outside the natural order? That you can treat us however you like without causing disharmony. because we’re not part of the Balance in the first place?
Ashala asks this of Connor as he leads her to be interrogated, but it’s a question I can imagine being applicable to many political figures at present. Without trying to, there are strong links between this fictional future and the present. As Ashala challenges her captor, the fanatic Neville Rose, she says
‘You don’t care enough, and you don’t care the same […] the same as you would about one of your own […] If some ordinary kid had died in the way Cassie did, there would have been an outcry and an investigation. There wasn’t though, not for a girl killed during an assessment. You set us apart, and you tell yourself it’s for the good of the Balance.’
I was reminded immediately of Tony Birch’s article ‘Who Gives a Fuck About White Society Anymore? A Response to the Redfern Riot’
Hickey’s name will be remembered in the wider community as little more than an archived news item. Meanwhile young Indigenous people will continue to die as a result of violence, most of them in the shadows of Australia’s psyche. Some of these children will die within their own communities, others alienated and alone. And unless they are able to provide a photo opportunity to accompany a briefly documented statistic they will die anonymously. They will not be forgotten by the wider community, as they will have never been remembered. But we must remember these young people, and in life not death. White Australia also needs to discover its memory of its own history of violence.
Perhaps it is in fiction that we can look for ways to shape a future where we are better.