I loved this book, loved, loved, loved it. It’s the first book in ages to keep me up until the wee small hours because I absolutely positively had to know what was coming next. Here’s the premise: almost-eighteen year old Cass is walking home from her suburban school one day after her last exam before graduation when - pop! - she finds herself in the middle of a not-Earth forest, with no way back. For a while, she is on her own, walking through this world with its odd mixture of Earth-like creatures (deer and otters) and other more alien types, surviving as best she can. She’s a pretty resourceful type, but even so it’s a marginal business. But luckily some super-ninja soldier types from a technologically advanced society turn up and rescue her, and after that things get seriously weird.
Cass is an unusual sort of heroine.
She’s clearly intelligent, but she’s not the kick-ass type of female so
beloved of the current sci-fi and fantasy scene. She seems quite
passive, going along with everything that’s asked of her, even though
she’s basically being used as a military tool, but then her new
‘friends’ don’t abuse or hurt her (at least, not intentionally!) and,
frankly, I’m not at all sure what other options are open to her. Being
useful and helpful (at least until you know your way round and have got a
better grasp of the language) is just plain common sense. I loved the
way that Cass gradually brought her hosts to see her as a person, with
needs and feelings of her own, and not just a passive piece of kit
(‘Military equipment doesn't salute’ she comments drily at one point).
book is written in the first person in the form of a diary, which works
very well to tell us what’s going on in Cass’s head. It also
brilliantly conveys the sense of disorientation she frequently feels,
and the ‘otherness’ of an Australian girl parachuted into a culture
which has many similarities with Earth but is also scarily alien.
Fortunately Cass has a great sense of humour, and sees the funny side of
many of the peculiar situations she finds herself in. This is one of
the great perks of portal-type stories, that the transported character
can toss around all sorts of slang and in-jokes and cultural references:
(‘I tried very unsuccessfully to explain Clint Eastwood, and then moved
on to Johnny Depp, and now all of First Squad except Maze have sworn to
find a path to Earth so they can watch Pirates of the Caribbean’).
a piece of science fiction, this is fairly light on the sciencey bits.
There’s nanotechnology, and a universal interface system (brain-embedded
internet, basically), but the Ena (‘A dimension connected to the
thoughts, memories, dreams and imagination of living beings’, it says in
the glossary) which surrounds Cass’s new home, the monsters (Ionoths)
living there and the psychic abilities of the Setari (the ninja
soldiers) seem closer to fantasy to me. As with all the author’s work,
there are plenty of deeper themes for those who like to look beneath the
surface: about being an outsider, being treated with respect, duty
versus freedom, the greater good versus the individual. Not to mention
the pleasures and perils of a permanently wired-in internet.
is another terrific piece of writing by one of my favourite authors. I
was a little concerned about it being a YA book, but no need - there’s
no love triangle, and the very small amount of angsting over boys is
actually very funny. The only (minor) grumble I had was the sheer number
of characters involved, a situation not helped by Cass’s early problems
with the language, so that she spells names wrongly in the early parts
of the book. But there’s a full list of characters at the back, plus a
very useful glossary, which rather wonderfully explains all Cass’s
Australia-speak and geekisms alongside the in-book terminology. This is
very much the first book of the trilogy, so although there’s a
mini-resolution, this doesn’t have the feel of a stand-alone book. Be
prepared to invest in the whole trilogy (available as an omnibus), not
to mention the fourth part, entitled ‘Gratuitous Epilogue’. Five stars.