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Posted on 27 Apr 2021 in Fiction, SFF |

MARIA LEWIS The Rose Daughter. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

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Aurealis award-winner Maria Lewis has created an imaginative world that is both compelling and addictive.

‘All the best characters have scars…not just the villains.’

Set in a fantasy universe shared with her other novels, but still satisfying as a standalone read, The Rose Daughter is everything that a tale about werewolves, selkies, goblins and many other magical beings set in the modern world should be. It’s funny, emotional, action-packed and, most importantly, handles the existence of a secret magical society, where supernatural beings (supernaturals) pretend to be ordinary humans, in a plausible way.

Dreckly Jones has been hiding from the supernatural government, the Treize, for most of her longer-than-average life. As the child of an earth elemental and a selkie, she is considered by those in power as an abomination that should never have been allowed to exist. One tiny slip up could reveal her unusual powers and see her kept behind bars forever. As such, she’d rather stay safe than be a hero. But when supernaturals start going missing and a small group of rebels ask for Dreckly’s help as a professional forger, she is forced to decide whether her freedom is still more important than the chance to finally fight back.

The chapters set in the present are written in the third person and interspersed chapters narrated by Dreckly herself that lay out her past in an intriguing way. These sections are just as gripping and suspenseful as the present chapters. Her backstory is surprising and varied, from working in early Hollywood to intelligence work in the lead up to (and during) World War II, with a lot of relevant historical detail for each time period. In this way The Rose Daughter also functions as a brief overview of some of the challenges faced by women in male-dominated industries, many of whom, including the main character, also had to contend with racism. Lewis is very inclusive with her range of characters, in an effortless, rather than forced, manner. It’s always good to see something set in Australia that reflects how diverse we are.

The fact that the little details about the city it’s set in are about Sydney, rather than London or New York, is a nice touch and makes a pleasant change. Descriptions are quite bare bones but sometimes less is more:

When he looked at me, it was like everyone else was furniture.

That said, sometimes I wondered if I’d imagined some beings correctly, without that having all much to go on, but maybe that was the point, that whatever the reader imagines is right.

The writing is often archly witty, as in this bit of dialogue:

[He] had ordered a steak, rare. Such a lycanthrope cliché, she thought. She had ordered the garlic herb mushroom spaghetti.

‘Do you want a bite of my steak?’ he asked, hands hovering over his cutlery.

She smiled, twirling the pasta around on her fork. It was a cute gesture.

‘No, thanks, I’m vegetarian.’

He choked on a sip of his wine, clearly shocked. Such a lycanthrope reaction.

But perhaps the best endorsement I can give this book is that I now want to read all Lewis’s other ones as soon as possible. The supernatural world she has built is really exciting and it’ll be great to see what other twists she’s made to folklore, bringing different beings into a modern setting with a slight science fiction bent.

Maria Lewis The Rose Daughter Piatkus 2021 PB 352pp $32.99

Amelia Dudley studied plant biology and currently works as a tutor. She is the proud auntie of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time, she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy The Rose Daughter from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.

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