Paul Collins is a prominent figure in the Australian speculative fiction community. Co-editor of the highly successful Quentaris Chronicles, Collins is also a multi-award winning author and publisher. Mole Hunt is his latest book, the first of a trilogy centring on compelling anti-hero, Maximus Black. Eighteen-year-old Maximus is a star cadet with RIM (Regis Imperium Mentatis)—a galactic law agency. Ruthless, manipulative, and conniving, he is the ‘perfect psychopath’, slipping undetected through the treacherous streets and alleyways of Zetalon 6, hell-bent on revenge and galactic control.

The dystopian universe that Maximus inhabits is totally convincing and so deftly constructed by Collins that the reader might feel that it’s somewhere they’ve actually been—albeit an often unsavoury somewhere. Zetalon 6 has ‘four seasons: murky and clearing, twice a year’. Opportunists trade information, vicious mercenaries lurk in dingy bars, alleyways are infested with shady figures, and high-tech law enforcement procedures are implemented in a sometimes futile attempt to maintain law and order.

Just when you think things can’t become any more complicated, enter Anneke Longshadow: a real match for Collins’s anti-hero. Fiercely intelligent; physically powerful; damaged, but morally upright, Anneke acts as Maximus’s binary opposite. How refreshing to encounter a central female character who’s every bit as complex and resourceful as her male counterpart. Word has spread among RIM operatives that a mole has infiltrated the agency and Anneke is determined to root out the traitor. Max, filled with secrets and motivations of his own, finds himself inextricably connected to Anneke in a page-turning, pulse-quickening battle of wits, physical dominance, and exhilarating daring.

I just love spending time with these characters—it’s a rush to be caught on the precipice of their perilous situations, only to be rescued at the last minute by their ingenuity and lightning-fast reflexes. Thrilling plot aside, what I love most about Mole Hunt is the sheer joy of Collins’s inventiveness; the imaginary technology is amazing. And not all authors can pull this off. I’ve read many a book that overdoes this sort of thing until it becomes a distraction. Some sci-fi writers sacrifice characterisation in favour of technology; it’s to Collins’s credit that Mole Hunt has both. In spades! Directional locator bands, attractor field generators, anti-static suits, astrogation charts,  hover cars, e-paper—I couldn’t get enough of it.

It’s so much fun watching the tale unfold from the perspectives of these charismatic characters as they use every reserve of cunning and practicality to outmanoeuvre one another. Traps are set, tracks are traced, wits are sharpened, and bodies are pushed to the limit. And in this epic struggle, Collins asks us to consider questions of loyalty, morality, identity, and life choices.

There’s plenty to recommend about Mole Hunt. The trilogy is being pitched at a 12+ male audience, though I think its actual readership is far wider. Anyone who enjoys an action-packed sci-fi, with imaginative environments and gadgetry, an absorbing plot, and memorable characters will love this. Simply put, it’s enormously entertaining. Put Mole Hunt at the top of your reading list and be on the look out for book 2: Dyson’s Drop. I sure will be.

Mole Hunt trailer: httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs

Mole Hunt – Paul Collins

Published, June 2011, by Ford Street Publishing

Paperback, 347 pages

ISBN: 9-781-921-665-2-64



Michael Pryor is a rare talent in the Young Adult literary field. Having published over twenty books and forty short stories, he’s also been nominated for a number of prestigious awards, including the Ditmar and the Aurealis. A versatile author, Pryor’s work ranges from literary fiction through to science fiction and humour. He writes for both Young Adult and younger readers. His most recent YA series, The Laws of Magic, comprises six books, the last of which he is currently working on. The penultimate book in the series, Moment of Truth, has just been released to critical acclaim.

I must confess that I hadn’t read Michael Pryor’s work before picking up this book and it’s testament to his talent that I’m now dying to devour his back catalogue. A thorough researcher and history buff, Pryor has injected this weighty novel with military accuracies and technical detail that bring to life his quasi-WWI setting. You get the impression, while reading Moment of Truth, that you’re receiving a subtle, yet comprehensive tuition, along with a wonderful tale of spies and battle on the world stage. And you are. In a recent interview, Pryor described his research as a two-stage process: a general investigation into the major events of the period (in this case, pre-World War I), including political, military, arts, scientific, and social development, and closer research into the reality of living in that period on a daily basis. This meticulous attention to detail lends Moment of Truth a uniquely enjoyable quality: concealed within the sheer escapism of this engrossing novel is a revelatory history lesson, which further heightens the realism of the story.

The novel’s well-rounded central character, Aubrey, is a serious-minded 15-year-old— one who inspires affection and admiration. I can imagine a male readership finding no problems in identifying with him as he confronts each new challenge with a mixture of intrepidity and caution. His loyalty, humility, and resourcefulness are equally as endearing as his weakness in the company of attractive young women. Should he risk the affection of his beloved Caroline for the uncertainty of the formidable, intelligent, and mysterious Sophie? For all his strategising and taking charge, Aubrey is, ultimately, an adolescent, with all the associated flaws and insecurities. It is in Aubrey’s exchanges with his friends and love interests that Pryor’s powers of observation and wit really shine.

In quaint and elegant language evocative of the time, Pryor sends his cast of military strategists, magic experts, politicians, and villains racing towards a climax that will stun and delight. When Aubrey and his secret espionage unit are engaged in a particularly tense moment of combat, his comrade George addresses him:

‘I thought so too, old man.’ George paused a moment and seemed to enjoy Aubrey’s

puzzlement. ‘You see, old man, I like to keep you on your toes. Sometimes, when I’m

supposed to give a compliant “What did you think?” response, I prefer to throw in a googly.’

Gorgeous!

The ingenuity, research, and humour Pryor brings to this delightful book can’t be praised highly enough: his inventiveness is endlessly entertaining; his detail is utterly delicious in its sure-handedness; his ability to draw a wry smile is matched only by his aptitude for expressing events of great gravity in language that is at once sensitive and evocative. The reader puts down this latest offering by Michael Pryor with a sense of great satisfaction, yet a nagging disappointment. After having been lost in such a well-told tale of magic and espionage, it is a wrench to leave Aubrey and his friends to return to the real world beyond the covers of this book. The good news is that The Laws of Magic Part 6 (Hour of Need) is set for release in 2011, so the wait for the final instalment of the series shouldn’t be too unbearable. More Young Adult novels need this depth and research. In a YA universe saturated with books of an increasingly superficial nature, it’s refreshing to discover a book as well-written and engaging as Michael Pryor’s Moment of Truth.

Moment of Truth – Michael Pryor

August 2nd 2010 by Random House Australia

Paperback, 428 pages

ISBN 9781741663099



If you’re a fan of romance and intrigue, you’ll love this novel by award-winning author, Rosemary Clement-Moore. Sylvie Davis, the main protagonist, is a self-assured, wise-cracking teen with a strong will and a sly wit. When her dream of becoming a world-famous ballerina ends after a disastrous stage fall, she is forced to reassess her life and shift her considerable focus elsewhere. In an effort to curtail a lapse into depression and substance abuse, she is sent to Alabama under the care of distant relatives. Her family believes that the change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered.

Instead, Sylvie finds herself growing more perplexed; she meets two young men between whom her affections quickly become torn. There is the intelligent, brooding Welshman: Rhys, and the expansive, all-American boy: Shawn (whose mutual disdain becomes increasingly evident throughout her stay). To further add to Sylvie’s confusion, occurrences of a supernatural bent are starting to take place around her, causing her to question first her sanity and then her resolve. With only her beloved lapdog, Gigi, as a reliable companion throughout the unfolding mystery, Sylvie learns to follow her heart and trust her instincts.

Clement-Moore’s characterisation is top-notch: Sylvie is a memorable lead character, delightfully complex in her reactions and dialogue. Her romantic interests are equally appealing: mysterious Rhys is coolly charming and aloof; charismatic Shawn warms a room with his megawatt smile and easy company. Aside from its involving plot, the book’s strength lies in its utterly real observation of daily life — Clement-Moore has a real knack for describing the sometimes very awkward exchanges between her characters and the way they interact with their environment. If you’re looking for a fast, punchy read, this isn’t it. Instead, prepare to be slowly drawn into Sylvie’s psyche, and to watch family secrets and mysterious events unfold through her somewhat cynical eyes.  At 518 pages, it’s not a quick read, either; so, be prepared to commit to this substantial, cleverly-woven romantic mystery.

Splendour Falls – Clement-Moore

September 8th 2009 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers (2009)

Hardcover, 518 pages

ISBN

0385736908    (isbn13: 9780385736909)

literary awards

YALSA Best Fiction Nominee for Young Adults (2010)



The erstwhile peace-loving land of Zamascus has been suddenly invaded by the army of Inigon. Thirteen year old Imm and his twin brother, Saxon, find themselves thrust into an unimaginably violent, horrific reality. Having just witnessed the gruesome death of their teacher during a bombing raid, they flee to their home to find it empty, their parents gone. After a terrifying flight through their newly-ravaged town, the boys cling together, using their instincts and wits to negotiate the hostile terrain.

When Courage Came To Call is an unflinchingly violent book. It’s hard to believe that this visceral, brutal story sprang from the mind of 16 year old, female first-time author, L.M. Fuge. In this gripping story, Fuge confronts readers with an effective blend of heart-pounding action and realistic dialogue. Vivid descriptions of military force, revolution, and genocide are riveting in their authenticity and drama.

Her characters are beautifully realised: Imm, the brains of the operation, is a thoughtful, sensitive boy; his brother Saxon is equally well-drawn as his impulsive, daring counterpart. Their complementary characteristics and brotherly bond make for enjoyable reading throughout this breakneck-paced page-turner.

There’s not an ounce of fat in this book. Fuge has developed a lean, tight narrative, filled with the gritty realism of war and its senseless slaughter:

It was an old shotgun, not one of the modern semi-automatic rifles of the soldiers. My eyes lifted from the gaping hole that could mean my death, and fixed on the figure clutching the trigger with firm hands.

As the boys encounter other surviving children among the ruins of their town, they forge friendships and build alliances for an eventual resistance. Along the way, Imm questions the politics of conflict, the nature of revenge, his own building rage, and the depth of his own character and courage. Fuge explores the themes of genocide, loss, camaraderie, and personal strength. Her taut, staccato style perfectly echoes the raw, brisk nature of the plot. When Courage Came to Call is a great read, filled with important themes and wonderful lessons about the legacy of violence, the treachery of combat, the importance of friendship, and the well of courage each of us (sometimes unexpectedly) has within us.

When Courage Came To Call – Fuge

April 1st 2010 by Random House Australia

Paperback, 326 pages

ISBN

9781741664447




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