Book Review: The Severed Land, by Maurice Gee

Available now at bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_severed_landIn a welcome return to writing fiction intended primarily for younger readers, Maurice Gee has definitely pulled it off. This is an excellent book.

It’s set in a time where,as in many dystopian novels, there has been a breakdown of civilisation. However, I hesitate to label it as dystopian fiction, as there is greater depth and more hope than in many books of that genre.

So instead, I will call it an adventure. It brings to mind the Salt trilogy, which was such an excellent series, but it’s not at all the same. It also made me think about The Chimes, although again there are not really similarities – I think that it’s about the feeling these books create in the reader which makes them feel somewhat familiar.

But what an adventure: power, thievery, slavery, acts of immense courage and bravado, and a definite nod to an underworld of violence and cruelty. It’s all managed brilliantly.

The main character, Fliss, is an escaped slave who lives in a part of the country Galb which is separated from the rest by an invisible – and generally unbreachable – wall. On her side of the wall there used to be The People who were instrumental in creating and holding the wall, but only one, the Old One, remains. His urgent need is to find and bring through another who has the ability to hold the wall together even if only for a while.

Fliss is a remarkably-drawn character. She is gutsy, determined, brave, and sure of herself. A good role model, one might say, except for the knife which she can use when necessary! One could fantasize that, put in a similar situation, one would be brave enough to use that knife.

The other main character is Kirt/Keef, who was once a member of one of the ruling families in Galb. His circumstances changed dramatically and at the start of the book he tries to escape and but for Fliss, would have been killed. I don’t want to give away the whole plot, so if you want to find out you’ll have to read this for yourself!

But I will just say – who is the Nightingale? Can she be saved? Will the wall hold up for long enough?

It goes without saying really that this is well-written – I honestly don’t think Maurice Gee could write a bad sentence if he tried – and the characters spring from the pages.
It also goes without saying that it may have been aimed at younger readers, but that like any really good book, its audience is in fact anyone who loves a great story. Of course it’s not as complex as it might have been were it written with an adult readership in mind, but sometimes less is more!

And while the story is complete, it’s possible there could be more – I guess we’ll just have to hope.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Severed Land
by Maurice Gee
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770244

Book Review: Stag Doo, by ‘Big Al’ Lester

cv-stag_dooAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Having grown up with male relatives who enjoyed hunting and fishing in the great New Zealand outdoors, I thought I’d enjoy this book. I did, but I think I’ve grown out of my youthful desire to be one of the boys..

‘Big Al’ Lester collects mates and their stories like a gumboot sock collects burrs. The stories are well told and I enjoyed them mainly for this reason. I have male friends now who love sharing tales of their derring-do in the wilderness, and this book would make a welcome gift, one to be read over a few beers, while reminiscing with like-minded mates. I don’t think many of the stories in the book have been too exaggerated in the telling. This makes for some head shaking moments as one reads, if the reader is someone who has never experienced such adventures in person. But even such a reader will enjoy the humour and eccentricity revealed as ‘Big Al’ encourages his mates to tell all. As he says in the epilogue- “the hills are full of hard case characters who are out there simply being themselves.” And one can identify with them to some extent because, like us, they’re human.

I enjoyed the photographs that were included, but I would have liked to see what some of the biggest ‘character’s looked like. And the book contains a glossary at the back which explains terms which may be unfamiliar to the townie. All in all, a good read for the hunter in your life who loves to laugh at the mishaps of his or her fellows.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Stag Doo
by ‘Big Al’ Lester
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143574064