Children of the Different by S C Flynn
Nineteen years ago, a brain disease known as the Great Madness killed most of the world’s population. The survivors all had something different about their minds. Now, at the start of adolescence, their children enter a trance-like state known as the Changeland and either emerge with special mental powers or as cannibalistic Ferals.
In the great forest of south-western Australia, thirteen year-old Arika and her twin brother Narrah go through the Changeland. They encounter an enemy known as the Anteater who feeds on human life. He exists both in the Changeland and in the outside world, and he wants the twins dead.
After their Changings, the twins have powers that let them fight their enemy and face their destiny on a long journey to an abandoned American military base on the north-west coast of Australia. If they can reach it before time runs out.
Regular readers of The Eloquent Page will be well aware that I have a special place in my heart for the end of the world. If I’m honest, I can’t ever let the opportunity of a new literary apocalypse pass me by. The latest title I’ll be adding to my ever growing list of world ending fiction is Children of the Different by debut author S C Flynn.
At the heart of this novel is the relationship between Arika and Narrah. They have grown up together in a small isolated community. Though not exactly an idyllic upbringing, they have been lucky; their childhood has been somewhat removed from the true horrors that exist elsewhere. Now that the two children are on the cusp of their teens, circumstance sends them far from home, away from the familiar, towards the crumbling cities and remnants of the old society.
Their journey however is far from straightforward. Their progress is being viewed by a sinister enemy, a strange being that visits both Arika and Narrah in the dream world. Known as the Anteater, this creature wants nothing more than to destroy all the children who enter the Changeland. The Anteater wants to gorge on life energy and stop anyone other than himself from having special powers.
The Changeland is an intriguing place. Flynn incorporates elements of Australian aboriginal mythology whenever Arika or Narrah enter this magical otherworld, and this adds a welcome ethereal quality to their dreams. When a child reaches the age where they visit the Changeland, it will either drive them mad or they will start to develop special abilities. In the case of Arika and Narrah, the skills they could learn holds the potential to make each of them unique and hugely important to the continuation of humanity.
The post-apocalyptic setting is very well realised. Feral cannibalistic ravagers, and city dwellers still in thrall to old technology, prowl the landscape taking everything they can from any unsuspecting travellers. I found myself imagining Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome if Max and Aunty Entity were entirely absent and the story focussed solely on the children in the desert. Society has collapsed quickly, the old axiom about three hot meals proving to be entirely apt. There are moments when both Narrah and Arika stumble upon situations or technology we would view as common place but to each of them it is something almost magical.
I really enjoyed Children of the Different. Part action thriller, part fantasy, the journey of the two siblings unfolds like a post-apocalyptic fairy-tale. The reality of the children’s tough existence blends together with the fluid every-changing fantasy of the Changeland. I particularly like when the events from one reality started to directly affect the other. Flynn ends the narrative on an a suitably upbeat note and I have to admit I was keen to discover what happens next. This novel feels like just the first part of a much larger story. This is smart, engrossing young adult fiction that doesn’t talk down to its target audience.
Children of the Different is published by The Hive and is available from 10th September.