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July 2, 2012

Review – Debris by Jo Anderton (Books of 2012 – June)

Books of 2012 – June: Well, June was a bit of a crash to earth after the more impressive reading stack of the preceding few months. I finished reading just two books: Kaaron Warren’s Mistification and Joanne Anderton’s Debris. Since I already reviewed Mistification, I’ll just go ahead and review Debris right here. Jo Anderton is a Sydney writer, so count this as another entry in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Jo Anderton’s Debris (Angry Robot Publishing 2010) is the meaty riches-to-rags fantasy tale of Tanyana, a celebrated architect on the verge of completing her great masterpiece, a vast statue known as Grandeur. Tanyana has a powerful talent for controlling pions, mystical quasi-subatomic particles that can be manipulated to create anything from solid objects, complex utility systems and thumping great works of triumphalist architecture. Just as she is about to put the finishing touches on her great work, though, something goes wrong, and Tanyana falls, literally and figuratively. Gravely injured and disgraced, she also loses her ability to perceive and control pions, and becomes useless to the society that once feted her. The only role left for her is as a lowly collector of debris, the destructive waste by-product of pion-bound systems.

Debris is the story of Tanyana’s struggle to find her way in a class that she once barely acknowledged, but of course there’s more going on than just a simple exploration of the underclass of a magically-advanced society. Tanyana’s need to understand what has happened to her is an excellent device for exploring the possibilities of this world of pion-binding and debris-collecting. Something is interfering with the fabric of reality and she is of course connected to it more closely than she realises. Her climactic insights into the nature of her reality are satisfying, if darker than I was expecting.

Thankfully Debris avoided my early fear that this was going to be a pretty-but-dull variant on the “chosen one who will bring balance to the Force” trope. Tanyana’s special, but not in the tedious fated-by-prophecy sense. She’s feisty and self-assured, but both qualities take an understandable dent when Grandeur falls, and she gets herself into all sorts of trouble through wilful denial of some of the realities of her situation. She’s powerful, but mostly because she’s smart and determined, and even so she can’t magically overcome her social ruin.

If I have a complaint, it’s that Debris is clearly only the first part of Tanyana’s story. By its conclusion she understands more or less what has happened to her, and makes a suitably world-changing decision but she has yet to confront her sinister tormentors and their quislings. Nevertheless, Debris finishes with the work of rebuilding Tanyana’s life – and the arcs of every single supporting character – only half-completed. But now that I look at the title page, it says ‘Book One of the Veiled Worlds Trilogy’ right there. So I guess I can stop complaining. Fortunately the second volume Suited is due for imminent release to soothe my mild disappointment.

(Ooh, actually, I have another complaint of sorts, which is that the beautiful and arresting cover of Debris features the young female protagonist looking cool and powerful and not dressed in ridiculous boob-accentuating fantasy attire – hooray! The sequel, alas, apparently does not.)

1 Comment »

  1. […] on the side of fantasy) due to its innovative magic system (review from Jason Nahrung, review from Dave Versace). A more conclusively science fictional book that generated much talk in the spec fic community and […]

    Pingback by 2012 AWW Challenge Speculative Fiction Wrap-up « Australian Women Writers Challenge — January 4, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

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