South of Darkness by John Marsden

17_south_of_darknessJohn Marsden, author of the Tomorrow Series and The Ellie Chronicles, is due to release his much-anticipated first novel for adults in November 2014. South of Darkness follows the life of Barnaby Fletch- a street urchin living in London in the late 1700’s transported to Australia for a petty crime.

Marsden paints a vivid image of Barnaby: a skinny, grubby youth scrabbling to survive amongst the sea of grey and smoke-stained buildings of London. Poverty, overcrowding and misery seem to abound and this innocent- yet worldly- waif is forced to commit minor crimes to simply exist. Amid the miasma of despair and hopelessness Marsden’s description of London evokes, the Church is held up like a bright white beacon of hope. It is here Barnaby retreats to for shelter, and occasionally, food.

What endears Barnaby most to the reader is his propensity to hope. Even though he believes himself to be worthless, he lives in perpetual hope that his circumstances will improve and endeavours to live as honest a life as he can. The reader ends up seeing him more as a Dickensian Artful Dodger than an Oliver Twist character, and his adventures seem that much more exciting when you imagine a cheeky grin at the end.

Ultimately 13 year old Barnaby gets himself transported to Botany Bay on the 3rd Fleet where he has been led to believe an idyllic life awaits. The reality of the situation is much harsher and Marsden aptly describes the overcrowding, starvation, and severe punishments that the convicts had to endure on the journey to their new home.

Incredibly descriptive, South of Darkness is a gripping tale of survival, hope and perseverance that will appeal to readers of all ages and lovers of Australian literature in general.