Australia is known for many things: kangaroos, vegemite, large barren deserts, and everyone apparently is each other’s mate (in a totally platonic way). Australian stereotypes are kind of built-in for me when I read novels set in the land down under. Therefore, I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised when I read Flyaway, Kathleen Jennings creepy fairy tale YA novel. It’s a story set between the Coral sea and the Indian Ocean that allows you to disturbingly experience the sub-continent without getting distracted by the accent.
A creepy Australian mystery
“The clawing precision of hard-won roses planted in wire-fenced gardens on the buried corpses of roadside kangaroos.”
The novel takes place in Runagate, a small town in the district of Inglewell. The protagonist is Bettina Scott, a graceless young lady who aspires to be graceful like her mother Nerida. Bettina’s father disappeared ages ago, and her brothers were banished. Her neighbor Gary Scott is constantly trying to befriend her, but she knows her mother wouldn’t approve. Anyway, he makes her feel uncomfortable, trying to get her to remember things her mother thinks are best left forgotten.
All could have continued in perfect harmony forever, except that someone painted “MONSTERS” on her fence, and she just received a hint that her brothers were alive somewhere. Her quest to unravel these mysteries is going to end up uncovering several more lying at the heart of her district, and bring her dangerously close to the type of stories that claw and bite. Not at all the type of behavior expected from a proper young lady, which as Bettina keeps on telling herself, she absolutely is.
Beware stories – they can bite
“A civilised, bone-china soul knows, as a bird does, that a heavy-footed, shouting man is a thing to be fled.”
This was a fascinating read and not at all what I expected. Each chapter is divided into two parts: the main plot and a background story of some sort. These stories are all local adaptations of European fairy tales with a twist, such as a bagpipe player who helps a town overrun vines, and when not paid makes a school disappear. These legends are always lurking in the background of the story and rarely exert an over presence, and this creates tension. I was constantly expecting the supernatural to pounce.
It’s also Australia, but not in the way I expected. I had to look up what “Ute” meant, and there were maybe 1-2 tidbits of local history that caused me to check Wikipedia. Other than that the setting added flavor to the story, that helped enhance the small-town fairy-tale/creepy mystery vibe, and gave it some teeth.
The Omer today is courage in kindness. I would say these two traits describe Bettina Scott perfectly. Her default is kindness thanks to her mother’s raising, but she invokes courage to embark on a very personal quest. It’s never an easy task to embark on the Hero’s Journey, but there is always a reward at the end, and many to be found along the path. For me as the reader (totally not a hero), the reward was a very enjoyable book that I strongly recommend for anyone looking to be bitten by their fairy tales.
About the author
Kathleen Jennings is an illustrator and writer based in Brisbane, Australia. As an illustrator, she has been shortlisted three times for the World Fantasy Awards, once for the Hugos, and once for the Locus Awards, as well as winning a number of Ditmars. As a writer, she has won two Ditmars and been shortlisted for the Eugie Foster Memorial Award and for several Aurealis Awards. Flyaway is her debut novel, which was published in July 2020.