I received this book for free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Children of the Different by S.C. Flynn
Published by the Author on September 10 2016
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The nitty-gritty: A unique tale with glimmers of magic and wonder, but with some writing inconsistencies that distracted from the story.
The city was a huge place of death with very little life. He could not sense the ghosts of the dead, but they had to be out there. And what about the ghosts of all the machines there used to be in the city? Most of the machines had died in the Madness, just like the people. Narrah could not sense the machine ghosts, either, but they must be all around him. Maybe now he could finally learn what they were.
My review policy states that I don’t read self-published books, which is a personal decision based on the fact that a) there are so many traditionally published books out there that I want to read, there just isn’t time, and b) I’ve been burned too many times in the past by horribly written, edited and conceived indie books, that one day I simply said “No more!” I know there are lots of bloggers out there much more adventurous than I who are willing to venture into the self-published pool again and again, and I respect their decision to do so. But in the case of S.C. Flynn and his debut Children of the Different, I decided to give it shot, based on the fact that I “know” him somewhat from his online presence. I have to admit I ended up with mixed feelings about the story, but I can certainly appreciate the work he’s put into the book, from the professionally designed cover to the many years he’s spent working on his craft, to his enthusiastic marketing efforts. It’s difficult to give constructive criticism, especially when an author is taking the more difficult route to publication (in my opinion), but as is the case with many books I read, not only self-published, some things worked and others didn’t.
Flynn draws from his own experiences living in Western Australia to create a post-apocalyptic world that brims with interesting world-building details. The story revolves around thirteen-year-old twins Arika and Narrah who live in the Settlement, a community that rejects technology and lives simply off the land, keeping each other safe from the Ferals, once-human beasts who are the result of a brain disease called the Great Madness that wiped out most of humanity. The twins have come of age and are about to enter something called the Changeland, a vision quest-like mental state that each child must go through. Once they emerge from the experience, they will either have a new ability—like reading minds—or become a Feral, one of the feared beasts who eat human flesh.
The story begins just as Arika has entered the Changeland, a dreamlike place where nothing is quite what it seems. Arika faces many dangerous obstacles in the Changeland, not the least of which is a creature who calls himself the Anteater. When she finally emerges from her experience, Arika discovers that she now has the power to mentally change into any animal, with all the abilities and characteristics of that animal, but without actually physically changing. Because of this she is able to get herself out of several scrapes during the story, so it’s an ability that proves infinitely useful.
Meanwhile, Narrah wonders when his turn will come, since he feels as if Arika has left him behind. But he doesn’t have long to wait, and his own experience gives him the ability to “read” almost anything simply by touching it. But a terrible discovery proves that those who have gone through the Changing are in grave danger, and Narrah and some friends from the Settlement decide to set off on a journey to find the key to a cure to save the those teens who are still alive. Meanwhile, Arika is on a journey of her own, but Narrah and Arika are destined to meet up again. All that stands between them are the many dangers of their world, including Ferals and the elusive City People.
Flynn is full of great ideas, and I really enjoyed the Australian setting. Because of Arika’s new abilities, we get a glimpse of some of the Australian animal life, which I found endlessly fascinating. For example, at one point in the story Arika must escape a small room with only a narrow window at the top of the wall. The reader wonders how on earth she will accomplish that task, but her Changing ability allows her to “become” a snake and slither through the tiny space. Most of the story takes place out in the open, near the ocean, in the desert and even in forested areas, and I could easily picture Arika’s and Narrah’s journeys as they went from place to place.
The whole idea of the Changing—which is an unabashed metaphor for puberty—was very cool, as the children experience uncertainty and fear before realizing that it isn’t actually that bad. One of my favorite chapters takes place in the Changeland, where Arika faces an almost Alice in Wonderland-like challenge, having to rescue Narrah who has been trapped in a maze. I loved the dreamlike quality of the Changeland and Flynn’s prose shines the most when he’s describing its mysteries.
Unfortunately, those glimpses of lovely prose were not consistent, and one of the issues I had with the story was the writing. Overall the prose is extremely simplistic and repetitive, and while this style might work for very young readers, I think teens will feel as if they are being talked down to. Based on the main characters’ ages—thirteen—this story works much better as a middle grade book.
Despite some truly lovely writing passages, Flynn’s dialog feels overly dramatic and bombastic at times:
“Never!” Arika said. “I’ll get away somehow!”
and at other times it simply felt wooden and unnatural. Despite the author’s claim to having had a professional editor at the helm, there were some unfortunately awkward sentences that seemed out of place with the rest of the writing (“A crash came at the door that Bowman had entered by.”)
Flynn also tends to use dialog to convey information, which can work if done correctly. In this case, it simply comes across as info dumping, as one character—usually one of the adults—explains how things work to one of the children. It’s a style I don’t care for, especially when it emphasizes how unsophisticated the younger characters really are.
The characters themselves were a mixed bunch for me. I did like Arika and Narrah, who have to carry most of the story, but some of the side characters didn’t quite work. The “bad guy” of the tale, the Anteater, felt more like a caricature of a villain than an actual villain, and despite the fear he seemed to invoke in the children, I just didn’t feel it myself. Likewise, the Ferals could have been terrifying, but the author just didn’t do enough with them to make them really scary. Like some of the other side characters, they felt cartoonish and two-dimensional, and I didn’t have a good sense of what they looked like, which would have helped flesh them out more.
I guess if I had to sum up my feelings for Children of the Different, I would have to say that it lacked consistency. There are moments of pure joy and wonder within these pages, but these moments are interspersed with inconsistent pacing and writing. As far as self-published books go, it’s one of the better ones I’ve read, but it certainly isn’t perfect and could use more work, in my opinion.
The last chapters of the book are actually quite exciting, as the characters break into an American military base where the cure they are searching for is supposedly stashed, and the satisfying ending left me with a feeling that the story was complete. Despite my issues with Children of the Different, Flynn’s story gives us a unique setting and an irresistible concept. Younger readers in particular will enjoy Arika’s and Narrah’s journey of self-discovery.
Big thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.