Winged Reviews A UK young adult book blog for those a little bit older.

Blog Tour: Frail Human Heart by Zoe Marriott

Blog Tour: Frail Human Heart by Zoe Marriott

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Welcome to the last stop on this tour! So happy to welcome back one of the best #UKYA authors I know, the lovely Zoë Marriott, to celebrate the last book in her trilogy Frail Human Heart! I fell in love with The Night Itself, the first book in The Name of the Blade series last year, and I can’t believe it’s all coming to an end. Today, we get an insight into what inspired Zoë to write this series.
 

How the Name of The Blade was Born

By Zoë Marriott

It’s finished! Hurray, hurray, HURRAY – it’s finally finished! The trilogy that I spent the last five years of my life writing (and rewriting and revising and then rewriting again) is actually, really, truly done. It’s a surreal sort of moment. I’ve been working on this story and living inside these characters non-stop for half a decade and now… it’s all over. Wow.

I’m triumphant and proud, as you would expect. But there’s some sadness there too, at letting Mio and Shinobu and Jack and Hikaru and Mr and Mrs Yamato and the King and Hiro and Rachel and Mr Leech and Araki go forever. They’ve been my constant companions for so long. There’s a sense of nostalgia for all the time that’s passed and the changes that have taken place in my life – and how changed I’ve been as a person and a writer – throughout the process of writing of these books. So now seems like a good moment to take a look back at how it all began.

It started in mid 2010. I’d just finished work on the first (terrible) draft of my fourth novel, FrostFire, which was a high fantasy. At that point I’d written two high fantasy novels and two fairytale retellings, but I was something of an oddity within YA. It was before before Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books had hit the shelves, before the Game of Thrones TV series or the Hobbit remakes. It was before the Dystopian craze had really swept the YA world. Before John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars had been released and ‘saved’ (ahem) YA with a realistic contemporary renaissance. A trip to the YA or Teen section of the local bookshop yielded an overwhelming abundance of a certain kind of book: paranormal romances and urban fantasies.

Now, I’d always been a fan of these genres. I’d grown up on and adored the works of Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy and Neil Gaiman, who beautifully illustrated all the terror and magic hiding in the ordinary everyday world. And I’d even pitched a couple of supernatural stories with a contemporary setting to my agent at that time, but she believed it would be better to stick with what I was already known for, and shot those ideas down.

Because I’d been working intensely on FrostFire for a year, and mostly only reading books I already owned – old favourites and books in my TBR pile – I’d missed out on a lot of the newest YA novels. So when my two friends (Tina and Rachel, otherwise known as Ferret and Roccie) took me out for a celebratory day trip in Lincoln and we inevitably ended up on a book-shopping spree, they both had armfuls – literal armfuls – of recommendations that I simply HAD to get, right then and there. I staggered home on the train with two canvas book bags and two plastic bags full of new books, the vast majority of which were YA supernatural or paranormal with a contemporary setting.

I read and read and read. Some of these books were transformatively wonderful. Some were fun and entertaining. Some were mediocre. Some were flat out awful. But they all had something in common, something which, having just finished writing a novel that was set in a fantasy version of Northern India and the Himalayas, was particularly striking to me: these books were overwhelmingly white.

I’m not just referring to the characters, although the vast majority of the characters were, indeed, white. Here or there you’d find an Asian best friend or a black sidekick, but easily 90% of the casts of these books were white, and considering that many of them were set in large modern cities in the UK or US, that seemed extraordinarily inaccurate. But I’m also referring to the mythologies that the writers chose to utilise for their books. Over and over again I saw witches, vampires, werewolves, elves and fairies. There were trolls. There were angels and demons. Everything seemed to come from a Western Judeo-Christian standpoint. There was nothing WRONG with that, per se, but after a while even the most skillfully written novel with the most unique take on Western Mythological Creature #3 started to feel a bit… samey.

And that’s not even touching on the lack of gender-presentation and sexual diversity in these novels. Again, there was the occasional gay character, but they were nearly always exactly that – a young gay male. The lack of lesbians or bi or pansexual people, or non-binary or trans* people also felt like kind of a gaping hole in a genre that was supposed to represent the contemporary world.

Soon my edits for FrostFire came in and I went off to tear the book up and make it better – which meant I went back on a self-imposed New Book Ban. But this impression of the unnatural homogenization of urban and paranormal fantasy sort of niggled at the back of my mind. In a way, it seems as if my brain was already making a space ready for the inspiration that was to come.

In September of 2010 I was hanging out with my writing group online when one of those same friends (Ferret) posted a poem by Robert Graves, ‘The Bedpost’. Here’s an excerpt:

“How Gog’s wife encountered Abel
Whom she hated most,
Stole away his arms and helmet,
Turned him to a post.

As a post he shall stay rooted
For yet many years,
Until a maiden shall release him
With pitying tears.

But Betsy likes the bloodier stories,
Clang and clash of fight,
And Abel wanes with the spent candle-
“Sweetheart, good-night!”


Basically, the unfortunate warrior Abel, having fallen afoul of an enchantress, is turned into an inanimate post of wood and can only be freed by Betsy (whose bed the post becomes part of) but she’s not into him and so the poem ends with him still trapped. That seemed an extremely unsatisfying ending to me. I posted to say ‘Someone needs to get on that and write a better resolution, please!’ To which, of course, Ferret, and Roccie replied – ‘Why don’t you do it?’

I can’t really describe the starburst of inspiration that went off in my head right then. It was made up of dozens of different parts, glimmering fragments that had apparently been streaming through my mind like comets for months, just waiting for the chance to collide with each other.

Some of it was all those lingering, niggling thoughts about the things that were missing from most of the paranormal and urban fantasy on the YA shelves – about how there ought to be something out there that had a diverse cast of people of colour, and PoV characters who were lesbians or bi or non-binary and who got a satisfying love story of their own. Some of it was all the research I had done into Japanese myths and legends while writing my fairytale retelling Shadows on the Moon, none of which had actually made it into the book. Some of it was my own strongly held feeling that London is a magical place and deserves more YA novels that pay homage to it. And probably some was that I’d been watching season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender and had wistfully thought that it would be cool if an idea for an epic series like that, with apocalyptic stakes, would present itself to me, since all my books up until then had been standalone with smaller, more personal storylines.

These are screencaptures of the pages of my OneNote notebook (I make one of these for every novel I write). Many of these notes are from the same day that The Name of the Blade was born (in an undeveloped, still mostly unformed iteration) in my head:

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

I don’t think I’ve ever been so bowled over by an idea. Luckily, by that time I had a new agent who was more open-minded towards genre, and when I pitched this idea to her she was enthusiastic and supportive enough to reassure me that I was onto something my publisher would like too.

Looking back at my first ideas about the book, you can see how much changed between inspiration and writing, how characters and their functions shifted, how the stories developed into something entirely different than I initially planned. That’s all part of writing. What didn’t change was my love for my Big Secret Project aka The Katana Trilogy aka The Name of the Blade. Even when I was struggling and I hated everything about writing a trilogy, I still loved my characters and what they represented.

Now that the series is complete and all three books are on the shelves, I hope they represent those same things to my readers. The idea that the everyday world is full of magic if only we know the right way to look. That families are vital, not just the ones we’re born with, but the ones we chose. That giving others the chance to redeem themselves can redeem us too. That courage and love are as strong as death. And that diversity is reality, and embracing the world as it is makes both fiction and our own lives richer, more meaningful, and better. Always.
 
 

If you haven’t already, pick up your copy of Zoë’s The Name of the Blade series at your local bookshop or online at Amazon, Book Depository, Waterstones.com and WHSmith.

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About Zoë Marriott

Zoë Marriott is the author of many critically acclaimed and beloved books, including The Swan Kingdom, which was long-listed for the Branford Boase award, and Shadows on the Moon, which won the prestigious Sasakawa Prize and was an American Junior Library Guild Selection. Zoë lives in Grimsby, Lincolnshire. Visit Zoë’s blog at thezoe-trope.blogspot.co.uk or her website at ZoeMarriott.com. Follow her on Twitter (@ZMarriott).

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The Great Mistborn Readalong!

The Great Mistborn Readalong!

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The time has come for The Great Mistborn Readalong! I’ve never read Brandon Sanderson’s arguably most popular series, Mistborn, so when Gollancz organised a readalong this summer, I thought it was the perfect chance to do so!

The readalong will kick off on today, 3rd August and ends on my birthday, 4 October. The plan is to read one book every 3 weeks:

Monday 3rd August – Sunday 23rd August: The Final Empire (Book 1)
Monday 24th August – Sunday 13th September: The Well of Ascension (Book 2)
Monday 14th September – Sunday 4th October: The Hero of Ages (Book 3)

Every Monday during the readalong will by #MistbornMondays! Gollancz will offer everyone who tweets/Instagrams/blogs with the hastag #MistbornMondays the chance to win a signed copy of Brandon’s new book in the Mistborn series, Shadows of Self, with one winner a week.

I’ll be keeping you guys up to date on my progress on the blog and on Instagram and Twitter.

If you’ve never read the Mistborn series or if you’ve already read the series, it would be great to see you joining in on #MistbornMondays! You can chat about others about your reading progress in the The Great Mistborn Readalong Goodreads group

Are you excited about Mistborn? Will you be joining us on this readalong this summer? Let me know and we can cheer each other on!

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Rainbow Wars! Reasons to love Attachments

Rainbow Wars! Reasons to love Attachments

Welcome to Rainbow Wars! To celebrate the UK paperback publication of Landline, me and three other Rainbow fangirls are going to battle over our favourite Rainbow Rowell book! Today, I will be championing the amazing Attachments!

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Attachments is the first of Rainbow’s novels. While it’s not her most popular, its the first in my heart. I’m going to attempt to list below the reasons why I love this book so much!

001-friendship

The email exchanges between Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder are at the heart of the novel. As much as the emails are witty and hilarious, they showed the best friendship between these two women. Deadlines, Tom Cruise, relationships, cute guys, children and strapless bras, whatever it is these two talk it out and support each other all the way.

001-adulting

Lincoln O’Neill is an ‘Internet Security Officer’ living with his mum and is trying to figure out what he’s good at. Beth is in a failing relationship and angsting over being a bridesmaid time and time again. Jennifer is trying to deal with her pregnancy and if she even wants a baby. Them figuring out if they missed their ‘get-a-life’ window. I loved reading about it, because I related so much to their adulting.

001-lincoln

Lincoln is a lovely, lovely guy. He is reeling over the end of his first love. He plays Dungeons & Dragons. He hates going out. He doesn’t know how amazing he is. He ‘eavesdrops’ on Beth and Jennifer’s emails and starts to develop feelings for Beth. Basically, he’s sweet and wonderful and it was such a pleasure reading about him finding himself and his happiness.

002-feels

You haven’t experienced feels like Attachments feels. Every time Beth mentions ‘My Cute Guy’. Every time Lincoln reads about himself in an email. Every time they almost cross paths, almost interact, almost meet each other. Your slow-burning realisation, mixed with their slow-burning realisation. It’s all so incredibly delightful and gives me those warm fuzzy feelings just thinking about it.

002-quotes

Here is a sample of some of my favourites:

“I’d know you in the dark,” he said. “From a thousand miles away. There’s nothing you could become that I haven’t already fallen in love with.”

“I pictured you,” he said. “I just didn’t know what you looked like.
“And then, when I did know what you looked like, you looked like the girl who was all those things. You looked like the girl I loved.”

“I couldn’t love anyone more than I do you, it would kill me. And I couldn’t love anyone less because it would always feel like less. Even if I loved some other girl, that’s all I would ever think about, the difference between loving her and loving you.”

“He knew why he wanted to kiss her. Because she was beautiful. And before that, because she was kind. And before that, because she was smart and funny. Because she was exactly the right kind of smart and funny. Because he could imagine taking a long trip with her without ever getting bored. Because whenever he saw something new and interesting, or new and ridiculous, he always wondered what she’d have to say about it–how many stars she’d give it and why.”

“There’s no air in space.”

002-ending

You wait the whole book for it, and when it happens, it’s perfect.
 
 

That is just a quick glimpse into what makes Attachments such a wonderful read and my favourite of Rainbow’s books! If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. If you have and you love it as much as I do, don’t forget to tweet your support by using the hashtag #TeamAttachments!

Giveaway

The lovely folks at Orion Publishing are giving away a signed hardcopy of LANDLINE! Enter using the Rafflecopter below. The giveaway is open to UK participants only.

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For more Rainbow Wars fun, don’t forget to visit the next three stops!

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Bookish Firsts: Marie Rutkoski

Bookish Firsts: Marie Rutkoski

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I am beyond thrilled to welcome the amazing Marie Rutkoski, author of The Winner’s Series to the blog to share her Bookish Firsts! The first two books of the series, The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime are out and I absolutely can’t wait for the last in the series, The Winner’s Kiss, out next March. Don’t these books look stunning together?

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So this Bookish Firsts is also a first for me – it’s the first time I interviewed an author live for this feature. If I haven’t tweeted about it enough, I went to the YA Literature Convention or #YALC last weekend. This awesome event is a celebration of books and YA. It’s part of London Film and Comic Con and it’s basically three days of authors, panels, friends and lots of books.

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Marie was attending the convention and I was thrilled that I got a chance to interview her one on one in the green room. I asked her some standard questions and also some more specific to The Winner’s Series, which is probably one of my favourites of all time. She was incredibly lovely and composed while I fangirled over her and her books. Just listening to and transcribing my interview, I am in awe of her intelligence and eloquence that shines though each answer. It was such a pleasure to meet her and I think I’m a bigger fan than I ever was!
 

Bookish Firsts

With author Marie Rutkoski

mrutkoski-seventhWhat is the first book you ever read/remember reading?
Probably the first book I remember reading—I mean, I remember reading a book of nursery rhymes—but the one that made the first lasting impression on me, that had a proper narrative, was this book called The Seventh Princess. The author’s first name is Nicholas (Nick Sullivan). It’s about a girl that falls asleep on a school bus and wakes up in this fantastical land where princesses are sacrificed to the harpies. There are these harpies that scoop up the princesses and whisk them away, and then the princesses become harpies. And I loved it. I read it when I was in the first grade.

What is the first book your wrote (can be published or unpublished)?
That again was in the first grade. I wrote a story called The Midnight Cat. It was nominated or shortlisted for one of the young author awards. In US schools, there is this programme called ‘The National Young Writers’ Award’, where kids write books and win awards.

Anyway, it’s about this black cat that always goes out at midnight, that’s why it’s called The Midnight Cat. Then one night it doesn’t go out at midnight. The owner is very worried and takes the cat to the vet, and it turns out it has babies. I think the amusing thing about this book now is how much I invested in the cat and the kittens. The cat has a special name, it’s well described and the owner is like this… faceless person that has no name and no life other than to take care of the cat. So it’s all about the cat.

mrutkoski-huntleyWhat is the first book you recommend to people you meet?
It really depends on the person. If I meet somebody that likes adult literary fiction, then I say you should read Elena Ferrante, who has written three books of a four book series about a friendship between two women growing up in a poor neighbourhood in Naples. And it’s really amazing. But, I don’t know that I would recommend that to everybody.

Me: If somebody wanted a YA recommendation?

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Then I would think, do you want YA contemporary or do you want YA fantasy? If somebody wanted YA contemporary, I just read Huntley Fitzpatrick’s books, My Life Next Door and What I Thought Was True. I’m really excited for the next book called The Boy Most Likely To. I love her writing, and I love the romance, so I would recommend that. The most recent fantasy book that I read and wholeheartedly loved, was Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, so I would recommend that too.

Who is the first character you conceived for The Winner’s Curse?
Well, it was Kestrel. Actually I think that I had both Kestrel and Arin from the beginning. You may know that the book is inspired by this term in economic theory, ‘The Winner’s Curse’, which is what happens when you win an auction but the only reason you win is because you paid more than the item is worth. When I decided I wanted to write a book with that title, I tried to think of an auction where the winner would have to pay a steep emotional price—and what kind of thing you could win that would exact that kind of price. Then it occurred to me, what if the thing up for auction was not a thing, but rather a person? So I had two people, from the beginning – the buyer and the bought.

The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiI probably started with Kestrel, just because that’s the person doing the action. The person buying is the one making the choice. What the readers don’t realise is that Arin is making a choice too. He’s actually offering himself up to be bought, for reasons of his own. But, it felt that I should start with Kestrel, because she’s making the very ethically problematic choice, and I wanted to know why—what is compelling her to do that? What is her nature like? Is this something in her nature, or against her nature? And, if it’s against her nature, why would she do that? So I did begin with her, then with Arin, but there had to be both of them from the beginning.

When you were building the fantasy world that Kestrel and Arin live in, what was the first thing you wanted to plan or set out?
It was the cultures, the differences of cultures. I knew that I had a coloniser, and the colonised. So it was pretty important to me that they were culturally different. I was inspired by the dynamic between Rome and Greece, after Rome conquered Greece. I took an ancient art class in college and I remember my professor talking about when the Greeks were conquered, beforehand, the Romans had admired them so much for their artistry and philosophy and religion, everything. Suddenly, these conquered people had become slaves in Roman households, and were reciting poetry at dinners and teaching their children. I was just fascinated by that abrupt reversal of status. So it is true that the Valorians and then also Herani are modelled somewhat on the Greeks and the Romans.

mrutkoski-neverendingAnd one more for fun: who is the first book character you had a crush on?
Ooh! I had so many book crushes! It would be hard to think of my first. My very first crush on a fantasy character was on Atreyu from The Neverending Story. But it was kind of the movie. He was so beautiful. I think I found out that the actor was from Denmark – I don’t even know if that’s true or not—but I remember telling everybody at school that I had a boyfriend and he was from Denmark, because I wanted Atreyu!

So that was probably my first fantasy crush. But I have many book crushes these days! What are your book crushes?

Me: Arin is probably up there as a book crush of mine. Actually, both Arin and Kestrel are pretty amazing. What makes me really crush hard, is someone that goes through a really incredibly story arc. So Kestrel and Arin, because they both go through so much—they are both beautiful, incredible people that are dedicated to their race and bettering their world, and they go through so much to get there.

I think you’re making a really smart observation about love for character and love for the narrative itself. Because when I think of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I love Spike, because he changes so much and gives us a really great story. He goes from this certain sort of person and then he evolves dramatically.

Me: I don’t know if you watch Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Oh yes!

Me: And Zuko…

Oh yes!

Me: …is like my all-time favourite crush, because his story arc is incredible. And seeing him first as this bratty prince, grow up into this crusader who is fighting against his father and his kingdom is just amazing.

I totally agree with you and I am 100% behind Korra and Asami (from The Legend of Korra). I think that is an amazing pairing. But, with Zuko… I wanted him to be with Katara.

Me: I DID TOO [major vocal pitch increase and Zutara shipper feels going on inside me at this moment]. I’m such a Zutara fan.

I know, it makes total sense. [My love for Marie here pretty much reaches dangerously high levels.]

Me: Yes, that’s the way I thought their stories were going to go, like full redemption.

I say that, acknowledging that Mai is really badass, and I think she’s not a bad person for Zuko. In real life, they might make better partners than Zuko and Katara, but if we’re talking about a story, then Zuko and Katara certainly work.
 
 
So basically, Marie loves Zutara. This revelation alone basically made my experience. Thank you again for the wonderful interview Marie!

About Marie Rutkoski

Marie Rutkoski is the author of several novels for children and young adults, including The Winner’s Curse (March 2014). She grew up in Bolingbrook, Illinois as the oldest of four children and decided early on that she was Someone Who Loved Books.

After attending the University of Iowa and living in Moscow and Prague, she studied Shakespeare at Harvard University, where she honed her skill in referring to herself in the third person.

Marie is now a professor at Brooklyn College, where she teaches Renaissance drama, children’s literature, and fiction writing. New York City is her home, and she thinks there must be birds of prey living in Washington Square Park; she can see large, wheeling wings from the window where she sits and writes. Marie has two small sons who try very hard to make friends with the family cat, only to be snubbed for the dark quiet of a closet. Marie can tie a double figure-eight knot with her eyes closed. She’s learning how to play the violin. She’s a sucker for fancy tea, and her favorite dessert is crème brulée. Or maybe sticky toffee pudding. Tough call.

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Bookish Firsts: James Smythe

Bookish Firsts: James Smythe

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So excited to welcome author James Smythe, aka JP Smythe, to celebrate the launch of his first YA book, Way Down Dark. This book is crazy good (crazy and good) dystopia. It’s utterly gritty, no holds barred meyhem, with really fantastic female characters. It’s one of the Top Ten Books I’ve Read in 2015. Basically, it’s awesome.

 
Way Down Dark by JP Smythe

Bookish Firsts

With author James Smythe

What is the first book you ever read/remember reading?
jpsmythe-moonWhen I was a little – like, tiny – kid, I was obsessed with two books. One was a series called Tubby Tin, which was about a little robotic rubbish bin. In space. There was this slogan he had – “If anyone can, Tubby Tin can!” – which I now realise is an AMAZING pun, but back then was just a wonderful rhyme. In my favourite of his books, the moon became sentient and grew a mouth and threatened to eat the whole world. Yup.

The other that I loved was a pop-up book thing called The Crocodile And The Dumper Truck, in which an Australian Crocodile rode his (sentient) friend the dumper truck through a holiday in London. I still have it. It’s still amazing.

What is the first book your wrote (can be published or unpublished)?
The first thing I would term a book would be the fanfic I wrote when I was about nine. I wrote Hardy Boys stories. The Hardy Boys aren’t as popular now as they once were, which is a real pity, but there was a time where they were one of the few middle-grade reading options you found in every library. Them, Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High.

jpsmythe-hardyMy versions were slightly more Scooby Doo or Back To The Future in their execution – I gave them a mad scientist doctor friend, where the originals are actually all Boy Adventurer Hijinks! – but I found the book that I wrote them in recently, and they’re pretty similar in tone to the actual books. Lots of Yipes! and Wowwee! proclamations.

What is the first book you will pack on your upcoming holiday?
I’m actually writing this from said holiday. Cruel, I know. It’s 32 degrees here, and there’s a huge pool outside the window. Awful life.

Anyway! The day before holiday, I rushed across London to the offices of Hodder, my publishers on Way Down Dark, where my publicist Ellie had managed to procure me a copy of David Mitchell’s Slade House. He is easily one of my favourite writers, and I was so excited by the prospect of his new one that I dropped everything else to obtain it. So now I have it, and I’m halfway through it, and it is everything.

 
 

About Way Down Dark

There’s one truth on Australia.

You fight or you die.

Usually both.

Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape.

Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide.

The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.
 

About James Smythe

James Smythe is the author of the Wales Book Of The Year Fiction Award winner THE TESTIMONY (2012); THE EXPLORER (2013); THE MACHINE (2013) and THE ECHO (2014).

He has been shortlisted for and won any number of prizes, including The Kitschies Red Tentacles and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

He currently writes a continuing series of articles for The Guardian called Rereading Stephen King and teaches Creative Writing in London. He can be found on twitter @jpsmythe and Facebook.

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