The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina
The Tribe #1
Walker Books 2012
YA Fantasy; Dystopian Fiction; Speculative Fiction
If, like me, you have a childhood steeped in fantasy and folklore; a love of the natural world and a soul-deep recognition of its greater importance in the scheme of things; a deep fascination with ‘misfit abilities’ (as in The Obernewtyn Chronicles and The X-Men); and a love for adventure stories involving youngsters outwitting malicious adults, you will, hopefully, love The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf as much as I did. This didn’t just hit all my storytelling ‘wants’, to borrow the analogy; it barrelled into them, knocked them flat, then pulled them up and charged off into the next exciting chapter with me grinning inanely the whole time (except for the times when the tension and anticipation got to me, of course).
Not so very far in our future, the apocalypse wipes out pretty much everything we know. Driven by climate change, what emerges in its aftermath is not only a drastically changed world, but a new mindset too. The new world’s ideology follows the doctrine of the revered yet mysterious Alexander Hoffman, a historical figure who guided civilisation back onto the path of survival. The ideology bestowed on this new world revolves around a Balance in nature rather than Gods: the idea that harmony must be maintained or another disaster will occur, and next time it might really be the end of everything. To prevent this, the surviving society implemented the Accords, a set of laws that everyone lives by. One of these Accords, the Citizenship Accords, has in turn created an underclass of exiled Illegals: mostly children and teenagers who fled before they could be detained due to their mutant abilities, which are seen as a threat to this new world order.
One of those Illegals is Ashala Wolf, who fled Gull City with her friend Georgie, also an Illegal, four years ago. Making their way through the grasslands – inhabited by man-eating giant Saurs, the first new creature of this new world – to the Firstwood, a forest of towering Tuart trees, Ashala makes a pact with the land and its creatures. In exchange for making a home in the Firstwood, they vow not to eat any meat. Living a sustainable existence amongst the trees and within the extensive cave networks, Ashala and Georgie are soon joined by other Illegals escaping detention, and the families that would betray them. Together they form the Tribe, of which Ashala is the leader, but they never stop watching and listening to what’s happening in any of the eight remaining cities in the land.
Now, everything that Ashala has built seems about to be destroyed. A prisoner at Detention Centre 3 in Gull City, Ashala knows the man in charge, Neville Rose, will use everything he has to get information from her concerning the Tribe, and their rebellious movements. And by ‘everything’, Ashala knows it means facing the machine. It’s just a ghastly rumour, but Ashala, Georgie and Ember know that Neville Rose and Miriam Grey have built an interrogation device that goes against the Benign Technology Accords – an accord designed to prevent the kind of technology-driven disaster that befell the world before.
Betrayed by someone she had welcomed into the Tribe, Ashala is now her betrayer’s captive. Justin Connor is an Enforcer, and a Citizen. With this enemy by her side, she now faces the next: an elderly, kindly man, the Chief Administrator of Detention Centre 3, who seems incredibly insane but who is no less dangerous to the Tribe for that – or anyone else for that matter. Determined to extract information from her, can Ashala Wolf beat the machine and survive the interrogation? Or will Neville Rose get his way and arrest them all simply for having abilities that some believe could be a threat?
Ambelin Kwaymullina’s debut novel is a powerhouse fantasy-adventure story that has invigorated my enthusiasm – previously waning at a dreadful rate – in Young Adult speculative fiction. This is the kind of story I want to read, and want more of. Thankfully, it’s the start of a series (and because I’m late getting this review up, I’ve already read the sequel, which I loved just as much, if not more). Kwaymullina has created a strong heroine in Ashala Wolf, who provides a new and engaging voice in the post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy sub-genre, and an exciting new world.
Ashala is the leader of the Tribe, and her ability is Sleepwalking: when she sleepwalks, she can do pretty much anything. To make her ability do her bidding, she gives herself three very simple instructions in the half-asleep stage, because once she’s Sleepwalking she can only hold onto three things. When she Sleepwalks, she can travel vast distances in a single bound, move through objects, fight with superhuman strength and so on. But it has its limits, and Ashala doesn’t always feel that it’s an ability she can control. Other Illegals can run so fast they’re almost invisible, or control the clouds, or control fire, and so on. Some of the abilities really do have the potential to be dangerous, but so far the only Illegals Ashala has ever met have been frightened children, fleeing persecution and a lifetime of detention (something that really resonates in our world today, with our ‘detention centres’ for ‘boat people, many of whom are frightened children – and adults – fleeing persecution in their own lands).
Georgie’s ability is to see the possible futures, while Ember – a girl with different coloured eyes and a Citizenship tattoo whom they find in the Firstwood not long after they first arrive – has an ability to do with memories. While these two central characters are mostly on the periphery in this first volume, they come into their own in subsequent books.
One of the pivotal characters in the story is, and must be, the land itself, especially the Firstwood, which has its own tangible presence and almost a personality. The Saurs, too, prove to be more than they seem at first, and a love and appreciation of the natural world is a strongly embedded current throughout the story and this world. It is one of the things I love about it, along with the Australian Indigenous Dreaming mythology woven in (Ashala’s grandfather is the rainbow serpent, a spirit being that even I have come across in my readings). It is this lovely balance between an exciting and fresh-sounding take on the classic misfit-fantasy-post-apocalyptic storyline (I hark back again to The Obernewtyn Chronicles – so glad there is another series out now to satisfy Carmody’s hungry fans!), and a story with a conscience.
It is this element that really connected with me, and I think would with many readers: after all, it seems to me that we are constantly searching for a spiritual connection with the world, and while I’m not religious nor into chakras and crystals, I strongly believe that it is a disconnect with the natural world – privileging a life lived in boxes, amongst concrete, in cars, in front of computers and screens – that has contributed to the high levels of stress and anxiety (not to mention obesity and other health problems) that we see today. Sounds simplistic perhaps but why should it be complicated? I know I always feel more at peace/less stressed after an afternoon in the garden, getting my hands dirty, growing my own food. Adults tend to rigidly adhere to – and expect – the lifestyle with which they’re most familiar, but children are less moulded and in many ways, more adaptable. Children’s and Young Adult stories are great vehicles for exploring new worlds and new ways of being, as well as engaging with classic and mythological storylines, the kind of age-old stories with which we continue to explore our understanding of the world around us.
Kwaymullina’s style is smooth and flowing, engaging and gripping and full of surprises. The romance aspect of the storyline is touching and genuine, to the point that I was biting my knuckles at the end. Race is irrelevant in this new, 300-year-old world, which is also refreshing. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf reads like a standalone novel, and having finished the second book, I can say that that’s a continuing pattern. But there is an over-arching storyline at work here, and some Big Picture issues at play: not least of which revolves around discrimination, persecution and dehumanisation of the ‘Other’. Beautifully written and absorbing, The Tribe is one series that I whole-heartedly recommend to as wide an audience as I can.
“This book is an intriguing mix of dystopian society and fantasy with a Dreamtime twist. Sounds complicated, and it is, especially with the way that the plot twists and turns it way to the conclusion. It is ultimately a fascinating and enjoyable read, both complex and nuanced.” The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
“Ambelin Kwaymullina’s gripping writing introduced me to a fascinating world of people with different abilities and the tribe. With strong and solid characters, a enchanting mix of the elements of nature and animals, Kwaymullina’s debut novel is absolutely not to be missed!” Forget-Me-Not
“The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a breath of fresh air in YA dystopia land. Instead of the usual white-girl-vs-the-government, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is casually populated with people of all skin tones. The mentions of nature, such as the Tuart forests, and the Saurs, add dimension to the setting. And the worldbuilding is strong and believable, with just the right hint of the ancient and supernatural to get things going.” Rich in Color
“It was fast paced and exciting, filled with action and adventure. I liked the way the author revealed the information even though I must confess to being a bit tired by the 4th memory flash back. … The story was intricate and fascinating.” The Narrative Causality
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