(The Sentinels of Eden, Book One)
(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2016)
Firstly, I must confess that I know the author, but this did not affect my review. If I had not liked the book, I simply would not have reviewed it or rated it.
Initially, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to buy Songlines, let alone review it. I was worried that I was going to read yet another YA novel involving angels with the usual love triangle thrown in. (Please get me a bucket I’m going to be sick!).
Yet, when I heard the author’s tagline for the book I was intrigued:
Songlines centres around a teenage girl, Lainie, who lives on a sheep farm with her Aunt Lily and their farmhand Harry – an aboriginal elder. Lainie’s best friend is Noah, a boy she’s known since childhood and who lives on a nearby farm. They are both in their final year of high school in the nearby town of Nalong. Lainie’s nemesis, a boy named Ben, also attends the school and his violent outbursts over the years have earned him the nickname Bane. The book opens with Lainie experiencing a troubling premonition about her aunt confronting mining surveyors on their property. Her prescience and feelings of imminent danger escalate and through them she, Noah and Bane discover that the world around them is far different than they believed and their roles in it are beyond anything they could imagine.
What I loved about this book was its characterisations and its setting. It was a delight to read a fantasy novel set in rural Australia and Denman captures what it’s like to be an Aussie kid going to school in a small country town. Having been a farm girl who went to a tiny high school in rural Victoria, these sections resonated very strongly with me and I found myself smiling as I read these passages – they ring true as do the sections depicting life on the farm.
The pacing for the novel is steady, but it doesn’t race along and one of the benefits of this is that Denman has time to develop her characters in depth and as such they are easy to relate to. Their motivations, their hopes and their angst are all explored. Though most of this is written in the first person, from Lainie’s POV, there are sections that are written in the third person from other character’s perspective and this works really well. I normally loathe reading first person stories and if I enjoy them then it’s proof of good writing. The “voice” of Lainie is a blend of naivete, farm girl practicality and confused and hurt teen, but it reads as, or rather sounds, uniquely Australian. Denman does this through clever use of the vernacular and colourful metaphors which made me smile a lot. However, this is not done to such an extent that it will prove troublesome for international readers.
Beyond the religious aspects of this tale, this is a coming of age story for all the teens involved in it and there other messages about personal freedom, environmental protection, dealing with loss and grief, facing fears, taking responsibility and ultimately embracing destiny despite the costs.
The end was satisfying and definitely made me want to see what’s next in Denman’s The Sentinels of Eden series.