Saturday, September 05, 2009

Children’s Books: Vulture’s Gate by Kristy Murray

Some time in the future, much of Australia is Mad Max territory. The outback is filled with folk killing each other, wiping out settlements and running freak shows. Sydney is in ruins with gangs fighting each other and the authorities, from the anti-elder Festers to the nut-case Sons of Gaia who want to wipe out everybody.

Oh, and there are very few women or girls left after a mutated form of bird flu not only killed most females but made it very difficult for the few survivors to produce anything but boys. There is still some technology in service of the Colony government, producing “drones” and “chosen” boys who get to live comfortably with two male parents.

Callum, who has been living with his two fathers in the outback, is kidnapped and sold to a circus, from which he escapes on a motorbike and meets Bo, a girl living on her own since the death of her engineer grandfather, with only the company of a pack of “roboraptors” which hunt for her. Together, Callum and Bo ride off in search of his missing fathers, accompanied by roboraptor Mr. Pinkwhistle, which is as much a computer as a robotic dinosaur.

But there are things Callum’s Colony employee fathers never told him. Like what happens to drones who aren’t useful any more -- and what happens to any girls unlucky enough to be taken.

Vulture’s Gate is an enjoyable adventure kids should like, though I’m not sure at which age group it’s aimed. It reads like YA fiction, but the characters are all very young; Bo is older than Callum, but neither of them has reached puberty. And we’re never told exactly how Australia has been left in ruins -- surely not just the bird flu? It is implied, anyway, that there may be women in other countries. And there is still enough technology to keep the race going, however nasty its use.

But it’s possible to suspend disbelief for the length of the novel, which is a nice road story. The chapters are short enough to make it work for reluctant readers and the characters are good. Who would have thought a robotic dinosaur could be as cute as R2D2?

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