Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tantony, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

First published in 2011 by Black Dog Books

Fermion Quirk and her brother Boson are twins, living in the remote coastal world of Carrick. When Boson sickens and dies ‘face down in a bog of stars’, Fermion is the one to find him. Now she must find a way to adjust to life without him, and help her family function again as a unit. To do so she must take a sea-journey, out to ‘The Other Island’ that is only there according to its whim, as local legend would have it. While she is there she discovers a world of secrets and answers and things unexplained, and above all how to become a whole person now that her brother is gone.
What an entirely strange, weird and wonderful book Tantony is. It is hard to describe and explain; it is something you can only appreciate through experience. I really don’t think there is anything like this in the Aussie YA market, and I absolutely love Black Dog Books for publishing something that is really quite a literary oddity – in an amazing way. Tantony isn’t perfect but its flaws are easy to love, and there is the same mix of gorgeous, unconventional language, quirky endearing characters and immersive word and place-building that made me love Braxton Smith’s first novel, Merrow, so much. This is an author who genuinely leaves me hanging out for her next book, just to see what else she’s got up her sleeve. GORGEOUS!

The harshness of life on the Carrick coast shapes the people who inhabit it – Braxton-Smith shows us this through the attitudes and mindsets of her characters. In Tantony we learn of those ‘afflicted’ – bearing some outward mark of the evil that inhabits them (this is a very simplified description – Braxton-Smith just about creates a whole mythology out of it).  Fermion bears the burden of having an ‘afflicted’ brother, although his is much more a capacity for mental strangeness that has got the people of Carrick so up-in-arms. What I love about the characters in Tantony is that no matter how much page time they get, we always understand something of their complexity, something of all that might be sitting just under the surface. But this is really Fermion’s story and she is a real little fire-cracker, stubborn and strong but oh-so-very vulnerable. In particular I enjoyed the relationship between her and her father – and what an exquisite emotional moment when her father comes looking for her at the end. You will rarely find a more motley, odd-ball collection of characters than in this book.

I am a little bit in love with the way Braxton-Smith writes – some passages are just like a revelation with all the beauty and ache they hold. Carrick is a world of spirits and legends and you can feel it haunting every page. The way the characters express themselves is a delight to decipher, and the word-building here is some of the best I’ve read in YA. The characters are compelling, the tension is high, and the language weaves a gentle rhythm through the stark raw world of Carrick. Braxton-Smith also artfully employs two narratives – life with Boson and life after Boson, that enrich and feed off the other.

Tantony is the second book in the Secrets of Carrick series, which links together different stories through landscape and mythology. It can definitely be enjoyed without having read Merrow (although I recommend that you do, just because it is brilliant). It won’t be for everyone, and it might not be an easy read, but it truly is a breath of fresh air in the Aussie YA market.

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