“You can’t transform a society for the better with violence, Ashala. Only with ideas.”
– Ambelin Kwaymullina, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf
The Tribe is a three book dystopian series set on a future earth where the world was ripped apart by an environmental cataclysm known as ‘the Reckoning’. The survivors of the Reckoning live in an ecotopia where they strive to protect the Balance of the world, the inherent harmony between all life. But anyone born with an ability – Firestarters who control fire, Rumblers who can cause quakes, Boomers who make things explode – is viewed as a threat to the Balance. Any child or teenager found to have such a power is labeled an ‘Illegal’ and locked away in detention centres by the government. Except for the ones who run.
Sixteen-year-old Ashala Wolf leads a band of rebels who she names her Tribe. Sheltered by the mighty tuart trees of the Firstwood and the legendary saurs who inhabit the grasslands at the forest’s edge, the Tribe has been left alone – until now. A new detention centre is being built near the forest, and when The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf begins, Ashala has been captured by the government and is on her way to interrogation.
The Tribe trilogy by Ambelin Kwaymullina is a brilliant Australian eco-dystopian series based around aboriginal culture and mythology. I devoured the three books in less than a week and it is about time that I shared them with you!
Dystopia usually depicts a developing world after it has caused its own destruction. Kwaymllina’s future Australia is exactly that but with an unusual twist; young adult dystopia is usually a fight between good and evil, a struggle between an institution and the protagonist. However, in this series, the institution and our main protagonist – Ashala Wolf – are fighting for the same thing… just with very different perspectives of what that is. One believes that those with power are a threat to the Balance while the other believes they are a part of it. Ashala and her Tribe are not out to change the world with violence; they believe in their ideas and giving others a choice to make up their own minds.
Throughout the three books, Kwaymullina continues to grow her characters and her world. There is so much going on and while I found the story line slightly complex and confusing at times, there is so much keeping the reader interested; there is danger, twists and turns and plenty of moments of questioning and contemplation. Although it borders on preachy, Kwaymullina offers the reader plenty of food for thought about the way we view the world and the people in it. The focus is not on the evil institution; Kwaymullina assumes her readers know that loss of freedom is a bad thing. The reader is definitely aware that there is a greater struggle going on. Kwaymullina’s language links the future world to our present one with current issues around race and human rights at the forefront of the story. Instead of using existing minority and majority groups, Kwaymullina creates a new minority that allows a gentler and less confronting read for the young adult audience.
The characters in this trilogy are brilliant. Ashala and the Tribe live in the Firstwood, a part of the wilderness beyond Gull City. Ashala and her two counterparts Ember and Georgie are so beautifully defined – both individually and together as a group – and they each stand for what they believe in. They are all equally important and each play their part in maintaining the balance – both within the Tribe and the greater world. They are flawed and nuanced yet incredibly likeable. Ashala is an empathetic leader who cares deeply for the people in her life and for the world she lives in. She is always fighting for those she loves and those she wishes to protect.
Overall, The Tribe trilogy is an incredibly smart series and one that I highly recommend. It is quite unlike anything I have read before! And now, in addition to my review, I was lucky enough to interview Ambelin on her stunning trilogy…
There was originally going to be four books – at what point did you realise three was the perfect number?
When I began writing the third book. I realised very quickly that what I thought was a two book story was actually a one book story, and it was the last book in the series.
Do you see yourself in any of your characters? Was there one you were particularly fond of?
I think my characters are, to varying degrees, smarter, braver and wiser than me – but its Ashala that I feel the closest to, which is why the books are told from her perspective.
Was there a particular reason you chose the three girls to represent the past, the present and the future?
I didn’t actually choose them to represent anything; I just told their stories. As it turned out, each one was connected to past, present and future, but that was something that grew out of their stories, not something that I initially based the story in. The books were, in the end, their story and not mine.
There is a quote floating around somewhere on the Internet along the lines of ‘write the story you wish to read’ or something to that effect. Is The Tribe series exactly as you always imagined or did you feel it was necessary to add elements/ plot lines that the reader would expect to read?
It’s pretty much what I imagined, with the exception that I’d rather have kept all my characters alive. But I knew from the very beginning who wasn’t going to make it to the end. That was the story that was there to be told, and so I told it.
What does diversity in fiction mean to you?
It means justice. The world of literature – including YA literature – does not reflect the diverse voices that make up the actual world. Not all voices are heard equally and not all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard – and until we achieve that, we are none of us hearing all the stories. And I think that is a great loss to everyone who loves to read, because opening windows onto other realities is part of what books are for.
What is your opinion of the #LoveOzYA campaign? What is your interpretation of it? Where would you like to see it go?
We have such amazing YA writers here in Australia, and I’d like to see them better known, which is really what LoveOzYA is about. LoveOzYA is in no way suggesting that teens shouldn’t read books by overseas authors who they love – simply that there may well be Australian authors whose work they would love too, but who they might not have heard about yet.
What is your top recommendation for 2016?
Becoming Kirrali Lewis, by Jane Harrison – an amazing book!
A big thank you to Ambelin for her time in answering my questions and to Walker Books for the opportunity to converse with a fabulous Australian author!
AUTHOR: Ambelin Kwaymullina
ISBN: 9781921720086 The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, 9781921720093 The Disappearance of Ember Crow, 9781921720109 The Foretelling of Georgie Spider
PUBLISHER: Walker Books
PUB DATE: 2012 – 2015
Thank you to Walker Books Australia for sending me the series in exchange for an honest review!