Book Review: Clare Rhoden’s The Ruined Land

Reviewed by Angela Wauchop

“[…] Hector had no idea what Jarli’s business was with the ravine canini, but he had detected a bio-echo that troubled him. Jarli’s life-force, Hector’s sensors told him, read very like that of the human twins the canini had saved from the Pale. Jarli must be, the twins must be, thought Hector in confusion, from the same gene pool. He shrugged off the unease that came with this thought.”

Clare Rhoden is an Australian author of historical and speculative fiction. The Ruined Land is the Melbourne-based writer’s third and final instalment of her ‘Chronicles of the Pale’ trilogy. This latest novel is the intricate and gently-woven conclusion to The Pale and Broad Plain Darkening. However, The Ruined Land can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel. I had read only a few paragraphs before I felt reassured that it didn’t matter that I had not read the first two parts of the trilogy.

Early on, the reader is introduced to the intriguing Mashtuk who is injured and battle-weary. It is clear that he is more than the sum of his canine parts, for Mashtuk is of the ‘Ravine Canini’. And who better to introduce us to his mysterious and dangerous ruined world, a treacherous world which is undergoing a catastrophic change? The author presents us with a broad array of characters, overwhelming at first, the inundation of information is necessary to gently decode individuals such as the weaponised part-machine, Hector. In fact, we soon hear of Wereguards, Humachines, liveware and biofuel with the backdrop of ‘mindspeech’ used by many species, and even some humans.

Several themes are visited throughout the journey of reading The Ruined Land. Rhoden parallels our own fears and desperation regarding climate change when she writes: “Our policosmos is facing the most desperate crisis of our entire existence. You and I, Adaeze, must ensure that our citizens survive this period. As many of our citizens as can be saved, that is.” But the subtler refrains also heard in the novel are some of its greatest strengths: forgiveness, family loyalty and growing up. These ideas are presented through the portrayal of beautiful relationships between lovable characters—some human and some genetically-modified animals.

The Ruined Land is enmeshed in a deep and intricate history and is strongly character-driven. Yet my favourite parts of the book were the journeys—especially journeys of the literal sense. There is just something riveting about a road trip through dangerous terrain with nothing but your wits and calloused feet to sustain you, all the while knowing that giving up is not an option.

 “They came to the end of the rows of service personnel and began a stately progress past the dozens of lesser troops—the altered recyclers, the clumsy sanitariat. These citizens had at least their typical appearance of health, as they had always operated on a lesser diet of biofuel, a lower allotment of upgrades, a more meagre original portion in both liveware and hardware.”



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