Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.
In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.
After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia. If they can reach it before time runs out.
When I was approached about reviewing Children of the Different it wasn’t hard to say yes. Apart from the fact that the author is fellow blogger S.C. Flynn, this post-apocalyptic novel sounded as if it would be interesting and exciting, especially since it is set in Australia, the land that as the joke goes is trying to kill you at every opportunity anyway, never mind there having been an apocalypse. What I found was indeed an interesting story, focused on the close bond between its protagonists, but one that left me feeling unqualified to judge certain of its aspects.
I mainly felt under-qualified to judge some of the underlying world-building. The book is explicitly set in Western Australia and has clear Aboriginal influences. This is openly acknowledged in the twins’ names, which we are told come from an Aboriginal language, but beyond the fact that Arika has black hair nothing suggests they are of indigenous descent. Their settlement leader Dural is said to be of Aboriginal descent, but there aren’t any other clear ways that it is acknowledged, at least not to someone like me who isn’t that familiar with Australian Aboriginal culture. Yet the Changeland feels as if it might be influenced by Australian Aboriginal mythology, but I am not familiar enough with their culture to judge whether or how much of it was inspired by it.
What I really liked was the inversion of the trope that only the fittest survive the apocalypse, by having the people who survived the Great Madness being the ones who had a “different” brain, be it through mental health afflictions, traumatic brain injuries, or other brain-related issues. It also leads to unexpected complications, since many of those who have survived have not learned advanced skills. Such as the Scientist’s chief assistant Mark, who due to paralysation after a car accident didn’t get the chance to study when he was younger. The Great Madness has basically torn a gigantic hole in society’s knowledge and memory.
The Great Madness has also brought on the Changing, where adolescents entering puberty go into a trance-like state and are taken into the Changeland. This is a plane where only the mind can travel, though wounds sustained in the Changeland are visible upon the body in the real world. If a youth survives, they either return with a supernatural changer gift or as a Feral, a zombie-like creature out to ravage and kill. As such the time around the Changing is fraught, both for the Changer themselves and for the community. I liked the different abilities the Changed teens in the book showed, they were not your usual super gifts, especially Narrah’s. I also liked that there was more to the Changing than just visible at first glance and the long-term consequences were a cool plot point.
My biggest problem with Children of the Different was the abrupt ending. It felt too abrupt—it rather took me by surprise. It wasn’t clear whether this was a deliberate choice as to leave the book open to a sequel or because the story was just done. The story/plot maybe have been resolved, but this ending felt like a door slammed shut in the middle of a sentence or the music suddenly cutting out in the middle of your favourite song. It left me feeling disoriented and confused and let the characters down somewhat.
Overall though, I enjoyed Children of the Different. S.C. Flynn’s writing style makes for a pleasant read and I really liked Narrah and Arika. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic adventures then Children of the Different should definitely hit your radar.
This book was provided for review by the author.