Monday 24 October 2016

Book Review | Dark Made Dawn by J. P. Smythe

There was one truth on Australia, the derelict ship on which Chan was born and raised: you fight or you die. Usually both.

But everything on Australia was a lie. Abandoned and alone, Chan was forced to live a terrible existence on the fringes of society, Australia's only survivor after a terrible crash-landing on Earth.

But Chan discovered she was not alone. Together with the unlikeliest of allies, Chan carved out a place for herself on Earth. And now the time has come: she's finally found a reason to keep going. But friends have become enemies, and enemies have become something worse. It's time for Chan to create her own truths, and discover a life beyond fighting and death: a life beyond Australia.


The Girl Who Fell to Earth finds her feet in Dark Made Dawn, the vital concluding volume of the Arthur C. Clarke Award nominated Australia Trilogy by J. P. Smythe.

It's been a long road for Chan, who murdered her mother mere moments after we met her, crash-landed the prison ship she'd lived on her whole life a little later, and has had to do a whole host of other awful things simply to survive since—but her hellish journey is almost at an end. She's been reunited with her former frenemy, Rex; they've found employment, of a sort, amongst the automatons of walled-off Washington; and the nearby nomads have offered them a home away from home. In short, Chan's dreamed-of destination—a world in which she can be with Mae, come what may—is finally in sight, and I'll be damned if it doesn't look bright!

Then again, it's always darkest before the dawn, and as liveable as her life has been of late, Chan hasn't forgotten how horrible it was as of the offing. She remembers, especially, losing everything after she gave so much of herself to get off the Australia:
I was scared, living in a hovel, subsisting on whatever I could find or whatever Ziegler gave me. I had nothing. Now I can bury those memories, mostly. Those feelings. I've got something that feels like control over my life these days. I have a place in this city. A job. A role. A purpose. 
And so does Rex. 
It doesn't matter that our job is doing what they don't want others to do, or what the others won't. It's still ours. (pp.28-29)
Through their heavily-augmented handler, Hoyle—who just so happens to be sleeping with Chan—she and Rex have blackmailed and intimidated their way through the worst that Washington has to offer.

The job has hardly been a joy, obviously, but it has been a necessary evil. It's helped our poor pair fit in in a city that values obedience over everything else. Chan, for her part, has needed the leeway that being a good citizen has allowed her in order to find some trace of Mae, who was almost a daughter to her on the Australia. But when she and Rex are asked to outright assassinate their next target, they both know that the time has come to either poop or get off the pot...

That Chan is something of a celebrity, now that the book Ziegler was writing about her in Long Dark Dusk is done, could be as much help as it has been a hindrance, our hero realises—though The Girl Who Fell to Earth didn't change the world the way its author wanted:
Serious journalists ignored it. And other readers? They couldn't believe that their ancestors could be so cruel as to condemn people to such a slow death; to send them to the stars and abandon them. People acknowledged that the ships were up there but believed them to be empty. People believed that the prisoners from Australia and South Africa were brought back to Earth before they could die. People believed that the experiment failed. People believed that Ziegler's book was a story. A lie. 
It didn't stop the book from selling though. (p.34)
And just like that, said central character has a plan: to use her almost famous status to locate the last missing piece of the puzzle, meaning Mae. Hoyle, however, isn't likely to take kindly to Chan's choice to betray him by breaking cover—and he has the infrastucture of an entire city at his fingertips.

But remember: Chan has Rex. And readers? Rex is tremendous; certainly the standout character of Dark Made Dawn, not least because her arc—from ghastly gang-banger at the beginning of the trilogy to faithful friend in this last act—has been so dramatic. Through thick and through thin, she's stayed true to herself, too: she might now be fighting for what's right rather than terrorising to keep territory, but she's still the strong, silent type who speaks in actions as opposed to words.

The words she leaves to Chan, largely, and bolstered as she's been by her development in book two of the trilogy, she's no slouch as a character either. That said, there aren't a great many more places for her to go, and until the very end of Dark Made Dawn, when she's called upon to make another awful choice, she can come across as somewhat monotonous.

Similarly, the city. As in Long Dark Dusk, Washington feels unfortunately flat. Although our heroes spend most of their time here, and so indeed do we, it exists only in broad strokes: there's a poor neighbourhood down by the docks, and then there's the rest of it, which is sumptuous, unceasingly surveilled... and that's about that. At a point in Dark Made Dawn, Chan and company visit new New York, and although they're only there briefly, its colour-coded bridges and sea-straddling skyscrapers make it markedly more memorable than the city that's been this series' primary setting.

That said, this is the end, my friends, and endings aren't especially invested in questions of setting and such. Between bringing events to a head, answering the overarching narrative and serving the concerns of characters, endings already have more than enough to do, and Dark Made Dawn does those things. It completes the circle of The Australia Trilogy in a very satisfying fashion, and if the note it closes isn't entirely earned, the finale is no less fitting for that fact.

Like it has been for Chan, it's been a long road for readers of this series, but even if our hero has had a hellish experience, the journey J. P. Smythe has taken us on—what with its fists and twists and burns and turns—has been altogether awesome.


Dark Made Dawn
by J. P. Smythe

UK Publication: October 2016, Hodder

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