River Stone (The Burning Days #1)

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Rachel Hennessy, River Stone (The Burning Days #1), MidnightSun Publishing, May 2019, 368 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925227499

The Hunger Games has a lot to answer for! Since Suzanne Collin’s book was published in 2008 the YA market has been flooded with dystopian novels. So I was not thrilled to see yet another new dystopian series enter the already overflowing YA bookshelves. However, River Stone is a cut above, and I think it will attract a large following.

Pandora has reached her Blossoming. She is now considered an adult in the village, and in the tradition of the River People, her life partner has been chosen by her parents. She is not pleased by their choice: Matthew is a lifelong friend, but he is not who she wants to be partnered with for life. Pan has only known this simple existence, living in a small village where everyone is known and traditions are strong.

Pan’s parents fled from The Burning twenty years ago, and found a welcome refuge in this small community by the river. Pan and her friends have been told little about what happened in the past, and there are only a few books and items of steel that remain from that earlier time. When an illness from the days before The Burning strikes the village, Pan and her friends must journey to the city Melney (a melding of Melbourne and Sydney?) to find the cure.

Early in their journey they are saved from a cougar attack by Bayat and Caro, tribesmen from the Mayhaanan who live in the mountains. When the illness strikes the Mayhaanan tribe, Bayat volunteers to accompany them on their quest. There is an instant attraction between Pan and Bayat, (of course), so while they are fighting for their lives, Pan is worrying about her confused feelings towards Bayat! Oh, the joy of youth and hormones! But I’m sure this element will appeal to a young adult audience, as it is believable and adds another tension to the plot.

Hennessy effectively uses the device of Pan’s mother writing letters to her to explain what happened in the past: “…change came gradually and more often when we aren’t even looking, walking towards the end with our eyes closed. The land had lost so much and so many: climate refugees driven to the city as the only place where life seemed sustainable; outside a world of famine, sickness, pollution. Leaders who were corrupt and uncaring. Mass animal extinction. These were The Burning Days.” Sound familiar?

River Stone contains a strong warning: that our world is on the road to ecological disaster, and unless we act now and change the way we use the earth’s limited resources, we too will be destroyed. Pan remembers their leader Theodore’s careful instructions regarding crop rotation: “If there is one thing we have to conquer from the past it is our tendency towards greed. Only grow as much as we need. Let the soil have time to rest, and then sing again.” This message, however, doesn’t come across as preachy nor does it detract from the cracking pace of this book.

I’m sure I won’t be alone in eagerly anticipating the next instalment in this stellar new series.

Reviewed by Gaby Meares

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