Interesting comparison to California. I quite like your idea about Australia being just-strange-enough to be intriguing, and I certainly agree that it’s a lot easier to be critical of realistic fiction that takes place in a setting and milieu that you know well. So that’s a point in favor of Australia, and may explain some of the intrigue of I Am the Messenger, Jasper Jones, and others. But you rightly point out that many of these authors write Speculative Fiction, so it remains a bit of a mystery. Maybe even a statistical fluke, with such a small sample size. I suppose if I wanted to get more scientific, I could go through the BBYA and BFYA lists to get a bigger sample.
But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to talk about Garth Nix, who as you mentioned is Australian (and whose Lireal made BBYA Top Ten – another YALSA-decorated Aussie), but who writes Speculative Fiction. In fact, of all the writers we’ve mentioned, he’s the one I would say is least obviously Australian, since he rarely writes in slang (I don’t think the editions of his books I’ve read even included British spellings like “colour,” but I may have just read over them). In any case, I just finished his new book A Confusion of Princes on Saturday and thought it was really great. According to Someday My Printz Will Come, it’s a bone fide contenda (three starred reviews so far), and I think deservedly so, but I’ve leave to Karyn, Sarah, and Sophie the discussion of its Printz chances. I wanted to talk about it in the contexts that we’ve been discussing – specifically the author’s work. Unfortunately, I’ve only read one other Nix book, Sabriel, which I loved, so to put it in the context of his work, I turned to my Garth-Nix-Expert (and one of your other sons) Thomas Flowers. Here’s what he had to say:
Garth Nix hooked me with Shade’s Children. I read that novel in one day when I was in high school. That experience encapsulates for me what Nix does best: he intrigues. The worlds he creates, the characters to whom he introduces us, and the circumstances of his plots invite his readers onward, page after page. At their best, the opening pages of his books awaken within me a passionate desire to know where the story will go, and the pages that follow keep that anticipation humming until the end. A Confusion of Princes represents Nix at the top of his form, offering a morally ambiguous story populated by deeply human characters and disturbingly human politics. Nix has clearly done his homework in building an intricate world in which to set his tale, but “world-building” never takes center stage, but rather does what I think it always should: serve as the set upon which his characters think and act. The world is part of the intriguing background that left me curious and eager to know where the story would go. The action itself rarely flags in the book, but even the action was only so much background to the real human drama of the novel. The quintessential intrigue of A Confusion of Princes is how Nix managed to make such a flawed character so loveable and thereby made the moral ambiguities of the novel so real. But it is precisely the sort of human intrigue that Nix does best.
So, unobtrusive world-building, plot-heavy, moral ambiguity, flawed characters–those seem to be the points Thomas has about Nix, and these are all true in abundance in the two Nix books I’ve read, and they certainly go a long way to explaining why I like them when I don’t usually go for heavy fantasy or SF stories: he can write entirely in those genres without making you feel like you’re in over your head. Have you read the new one? What’d you think?