Review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (AWW Challenge #11)

I found out about this book when someone I follow on Twitter was asking for specfic books by Indigenous Australian writers. I retweeted the request, hoping for some tips myself, and the several replies came back about The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Despite the teetering pile of books in my library already waiting to be read, I went right out and picked this one up. (Sorry books-still-waiting. Your turn will come, I promise.)

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is set 300 years in the future, in a world reshaped by devastating environmental disaster. It’s not only the world that’s changed, though: some human beings have, too. Some have strange and occasionally destructive powers. These people, referred to as Illegals, are seen as a threat to The Balance, and The Balance is everything. It’s the vision and philosophy of the world, and how the survivors hope to keep harmony with the planet and avoid another round with the apocalypse.

But the Illegals don’t think they are a threat to The Balance. Maybe, despite their powers, they are part of it too. At least, The Tribe, runaways with powers who live in the protection of the Firstwood, don’t think they are destined to destroy The Balance.

The story opens on Day One of Ashala Wolf’s incarceration at Detention Centre #3. Ashala, an Illegal, has recovered sufficiently from injuries sustained during her capture to be subjected to interrogation by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. The Chief Administrator aims to find out all about Ashala, her powers and the group of children she lives in hiding with in the Firstwood. Everyone is in danger, from Ashala to the people who trust her to keep them safe.  And right there in the interrogation chamber is the person who betrayed her: Justin Connor.

I read this in just a couple of sittings. (I do enjoy me a post-apocalyptic adventure with superpowers!) I certainly had a sense in the first few days of Ashala’s interrogation that something wasn’t quite right, so the ante was upped when the whole story began to unfold. Amberlin Kwaymullina’s style is light and energetic, so the story zips along at a good pace.

Ashara is a terrific character: fierce and nurturing, loving but angry. Georgie, Ember, Jaz and other kids from the Firstwood are all vivid, though Connor struck me as a little bland. Some of the other denizens of this world, like the saurs and the Serpent, were an imaginative addition.

Some of the world-building seems a little thin at times, especially when it comes to the origins of the saurs, but this is only the first of an expected series. I’m looking forward to learning more about the world as it survives now, the concept of The Balance and whether the Serpent will make another appearance.

Otherwise, the themes of living in harmony with the world, treating people with honesty, fairness and respect and the destructive power of hatred and fear are the strong underpinnnings of a fast-paced, exciting adventure. Bring on the second book, Ms Kwaymullin!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.