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Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morgan

 Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morgan

If I were to give an elevator pitch of Lara Morgan's new young adult trilogy, the Rosie Black Chronicles, it would go something along the lines of: it's JG Ballard's'The Drowned World meets'Make Room, Make Room!, with some'Bladerunner thrown in for atmospheric good measure, and all topped off with a kick-butt Australian Kiki Strike. I'm quite the lover of dystopian fiction, and I have a soft spot for gutsy heroines, so it's no wonder that this book made its way quite promptly to the top of my to-read pile.

The Rosie Black Chronicles takes place in a future that's chronologically distant from ours'by a good five hundred years'but whose context is only a mere imaginative jump or two away. In Morgans world, our current efforts towards global and environmental citizenship have come to nothing, and the earth is slowly drowning as a result of The Melt, which has seen much of Australia, a place not known for its dizzying altitude, become lost beneath the increasingly encroaching tides. Needless to say, this has had devastating economic, ecological, and sociological effects, with society as we know it becoming increasingly stratified and stultified. Gone is our longed-for egalitarian future of opportunity and harmony: in its place is a world of desperation, hunger, and a choking caste system that as time goes by becomes more entrenched, increasingly dividing the haves from the have nots.

Rosie Black is one of the latter, something she is reminded of daily by her grudging forays into the world of the former. A 'Banker' (a term that is only ironically linked to money and that instead refers to her residence in a grimy, overpopulated floating shanty-town) by designation, Rosie spends her days at a posh Central school, and her evenings in a desultory abode with her father, a man broken by the recent death of his wife and the weight of his unforgiving social circumstances. The daily collision of these two worlds only emphasises the impenetrable glass ceiling above Rose, who desperately wants to step into the high-flying shoes of her Aunt Essie, a vivacious and headstrong woman who is well looked after in her role as a pilot for Orbitcorp. But balancing her dreams with the exigencies of her day to day life is no easy task for Rosie, and things are about to become rather more complicated.

Exploring the Old City one day, Rosie and her friend Juli chance upon an item whose discovery, unbeknownst to the two of them, will have life-changing, devastating consequences. When a young Feral accosts them, demanding that they hand it over, Rosie determinedly holds her ground, wary of giving up her find, but its not long until she begins to question the wisdom of this decision. Rosies find is no mere trinket: rather, its an item so incriminating that it could result in the demise of the powerful Helios corporationand Helios will stop at nothing to ensure that this doesnt happen. After a series of tragic events, a desperate Rosie finds herself on the run, but from whom, and towards whom, shes not entirely sure. Can she trust Pip, the shifty Feral with his piercing eyes and carefree manner, or his boss Riley, a conflicted man who may not be at all who he says he is, and who seems to be working at cross-purposes with his protege? Rosies paranoid, abject world becomes increasingly so, until its all she can do to hang on for dear life.

Genesis is our first introduction to Rosie Black, and its an impressive one. Morgan writes a fabulously breathless thriller, thrusting us from page one into a nightmarish dystopia thats truly haunting in its implications. Morgan does a good job of depicting her drowned future, and its chilling to see a familiar landscape rendered in such a way, particularly given that Australia is often a country that gets off fairly light in dystopian novels. Consider Neville Chutes 'On the Beach, for example, where Australia becomes a lone outpost for humanity after a devastating nuclear holocaust, or John Wyndams The Chrysalids (see our review), in which the Antipodes are the last remnants of civilisation in a ravaged world. Morgans depiction of this drowned, backwards Australia, then, is pointed, particularly given that its tragic circumstances are shown as being the result of inaction and a lack of desire to take responsibility rather than the outcome of an out-of-our-hands event such as a war. Morgans integration of Asia into her world, too, is intriguing, given that all too often the influence of Asia is ignored in speculative fiction (perhaps given the fact that much SF is geographically centred on the Northern Hemisphere), but its influence is dealt with in a circumspect manner that raises the readers curiosity about the political status quo. Theres a plethora of Asian characters, mostly, it seems, from Chinese (or potentially Malaysian Chinese) backgrounds, but refreshingly, these characters presence is not a sort of maligned otherness, but is rather unquestioned and matter-of-fact, as is the ubiquity of Malaysian- and Indonesian-style food, which is suggestive of the large shifts in Australias economic position as an agricultural power. I love that Morgan has allowed the possibility of a multicultural future.

Overall, its a beautifully rendered setting, and although there are elements that seem anachronistic given that were supposedly 500 years in the future, one can perhaps look at these inclusions as a suggestion that Australia has become both an economic and technological backwater (and presumably still without a National Broadband Network)

However, there are occasions where Morgans spare, suggestive style results more in confusion than it does in clever ambiguity, and I found myself a little lost as the plot progresses and Rosie finds herself increasingly embroiled in the nefarious plottings of the rather creepy Helios. Morgan touches only lightly on Helios and its background, and given that its the companys wrongdoing with regard to a horrific, incurable illness that forms the crux of the plot, this results in the antagonists motivations seeming a little weak and shaky. I struggled with some of the antagonists, too, at times, as they seemed to be manoeuvred to act as archetypal baddies just for the sake of being bad rather than acting in a way that adhered to some sort of internal logic. In my mind, very few antagonists see themselves as bad: rather, their goals simply diverge from or contrast with the protagonists. This issue, combined with the ineffectively elucidated motivations of Helios and its employees, undermines the stability of the plot somewhat, an unfortunate weakness that remains in evidence despite Morgans fabulous sense of pacing and her apparent love of pyrotechnics.

There are instances, too, where the characters dont quite act as one might expect given the rather extenuating circumstances, and I found myself jarred a little every time Rosie stopped to admire Pips startling blue eyes whilst in the midst of some gratuitously dangerous shoot-out or somesuch, as well as by Rosies rather dismaying willingness to put her trust in relative strangers. It seems odd that a girl who has grown up in such a claustrophobic, mistrustful environment would be willing to act in a way that could so easily have dire consequences. These actions/reactions 'dont feel like the sort that arise organically when developing characters are thrust into untenable situations; rather they feel like authorial intervention, an issue that is also evident in the occasional overt aside pointing out a subtlety that might otherwise not be grasped.

Still, despite these shortcomings, this novel is a fabulous introduction to an eerie dystopian world that touches neatly on some pertinent issues worthy of discussion. Morgan gives us some fabulously strong female characters, a beautifully rendered multicultural society, and a thoughtful consideration of the social and economic issues that might result from our current environmental sacrilege, and adds a twisty plot and some fabulous pacing on top of these already strong foundations. Readers will emerge from Genesis with'more questions than answers, and no doubt they will, like me, be more than intrigued to see where the second and third volumes in this promising trilogy will take us.

Rating: star Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morganstar Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morganstar Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morganhalfstar Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morganblankstar Review: Genesis, The Rosie Black Chronicles #1 by Lara Morgan

With thanks to Walker Books Australia for the review copy.

See also our interview with Lara Morgan

See our reviews of other Lara Morgan books

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