Sunday, April 22, 2012

Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall

First published in 2012 by Text

Hall’s first book (the Text Prize winner), This is Shyness, was one of my favourite reads in 2010. I thought it was brilliant and quirky and a stay-up-all-night read of the best sorts. Queen of the Night takes us back to this same world. The style, the hipness, the gorgeous dream-state is still there. Shyness is a fascinating world to get lost in, and Nia and Jethro (Wildgirl and Wolfie), are great characters to take us there.

When I read This is Shyness it had such a unique quality and I just fell in love. Although Queen of the Night is as unique and clever and imaginative, some of the novelty of Hall’s writing has worn off and simply for this reason I didn’t love it as much as This is Shyness. It’s amazing to fall back into that world but the ‘wow’ factor was just missing. Which is not to say that it wasn’t as good, more just a case of ‘second time around’ syndrome.

There was a lovely bittersweetness to Wildgirl and Wolfboy’s relationship this time around. What impressed me so much when they first met were the witty exchanges, the excitement of discovering each other, the charged flirtation. In this book Hall has captured wonderfully that feeling of trying to get over someone, of missed opportunity, of hope even when you know there is no substance to it. I really liked the first half of Queen of the Night when Wildgirl and Wolfboy were dancing around each other. And of course, when they do meet again, they still retain their strong, individual personalities that drive the narrative forward.

The action picks up in the second half of the book. The plot line this time revolves around Doctor Gregory stealing people’s dreams – in this case the dreams of Wolfboy’s depressed friend, Paul. Because of this, Paul has gone into a catatonic state. Wildgirl must enter a dream world to try and bring him back. It is all very hip and lovely-weird and whimsical but always in a contained, unself-aware way.

I have found with Hall’s books that they are less about the plot and more about the experience. The adventure drives forward the themes, the relationships, the ideas. The suburb of Shyness is as alluring as ever. It creates such a wonderful space to explore the imagination. The writing is actually quite concise and straightforward, but the world and thoughts it gives rise to elevate it beyond the words on the page. It was nice to see Wolfboy’s relationship with Ortolan and Diana develop, although I feel their interactions in Queen of the Night were really just to lay the foundation for possible development in a third book.

Another enjoyable and imaginative outing from Leanne Hall. She has a very distinct voice in Aussie YA fiction and is one of the few authors who I actually follow from book to book, waiting to see what she will do next.

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