Book review: The Pale by Clare Rhoden

About The Pale

The Outside can be a dangerous place.

But so can the inside.

It’s been years since the original cataclysm, but life has been structured, peaceful, and most of all uneventful in the Pale. The humachine citizens welcome the order provided by their ruler, the baleful Regent.

However, when one of their own rescues a human boy, Hector, from ravenous ferals on the Outside, their careful systems are turned upside down.

As Hector grows more and more human-strange, the citizens of the Pale grow uneasy.

What will happen when the Outside tries to get in?

My Thoughts

The Pale is science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Amid the destitution of the Broad Plain, the Pale itself is a policosmos, a walled colony ruled by a tyrannical Regent and filled with humachines – machine-augmented humans not known for their empathy. Tad, a humachine that cares a little too much, lets in a human child, Hector, when he arrives at the Pale’s gate. Outside, the caninis struggle to survive after a devastating earthquake destroys their habitat. The tribes and the Settlement also struggle for survival. Four groups, four distinct societal structures. What unfolds is a tightly woven plot that centres around a struggle for survival in the harshest of conditions.

Rhoden demonstrates tremendous descriptive powers and impressive world building, The Pale reminiscent of the intelligent science fiction novels of old. I am reminded of my favourite science fiction author, Phillip K. Dick. The Pale is filled with well-crafted and engaging characters – including dogs –  in what amounts to a classy read with an important moral message, making the reader question where we are heading and whose side we are on and what it means to be fully human. Add to this an elegant writing style which makes The Pale accessible to teens and adults alike, and I imagine it won’t be too long before this novel catches on big time.

The allegorical aspect of The Pale provides much fodder for contemplation in today’s pre-apocalyptic climate change reality, something all good high school teachers should relish were they to lay their hands on copies for their classrooms. In all, Rhoden has penned a feast for the speculative fiction aficionado.

 

Find your copy of The Pale on Amazon

Author Website

 

Book review: The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

World War 1 fiction

About The Stars in the Night

Harry Fletcher is a confident young man.

Harry’s sure that he will marry Nora MacTiernan, no matter what their families say. He’s certain that he will always be there to protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide.

Only the War to End All Wars might get in the way of Harry’s plans…

From the beaches of Semaphore to the shores of Gallipoli, the mud of Flanders to the red dust of inland South Australia, this is a story of love, brotherhood, and resilience.

My Thoughts

The Stars in the Night opens on a grieving Harry Fletcher missing his wife, Nora. His granddaughter is helping him go through Nora’s things. She discovers a journal, composed in WW1 and she insists on hearing her grandfather’s story.

After a charming portrait of the old man, Harry – heavy of heart, his mind laden with memories – and descriptions of Semaphore, his childhood, his friends and family, the narrative shifts back to the war. First to Gallipoli and then ultimately to Passchendaele, where Harry and his foster brother, Eddie, live out the day-to-day reality of trench warfare.

The Stars in the Night captures all that World War One was at a very human level, focussing on the before, the during and the aftermath of survivors picking up their lives. This is a story of resilience, of tragedy, of coming to terms, and of love and hope. At times unbearably sad, at others triumphant and even a little funny, the novel paints a picture of war that is intimate, showing how events occurring in the trenches impacted on the lives of a small coastal village in Australia.

Rhoden is careful not to portray her protagonist, Harry, in a stereotypical Aussie bloke fashion. The prose has a distinctly Australian flavour, the tone carrying a hint of Aussie vernacular, but that voice is thankfully not over-played. Rhoden has crafted real men with cares and troubles and shame and big hearts.

Plotting, pacing, characterisation are all excellent. The structure – a patchwork of carefully woven scenes interspersed with letters and fragments of Eddie’s diary – works perfectly. The story is well-researched. Scenes in the trenches are graphic enough and horrifying. Rhoden’s prose comes into its own during the battle scenes:

“Now all his senses were stretched alive. The riven darkness slashed his vision, violently radiant with fire, while the air bucked, furrowed by metal. The noise pushed against his ears and the deceitful duckboards beneath him wore a slimy reptilian coat.”

Such visceral prose that abounds throughout to my mind places The Stars in the Night in the canon of novels set in WW1. This is the smoothest, most unpretentious and laid-bare engaging war story I have read in a long time. Rhoden is a master storyteller, displaying insight, restraint and empathy. Rhoden has crafted a gem of a story that I hope becomes a set text in Australian schools. Unputdownable.