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Austral by Paul McAuley. Book review

Austral

Antarctica has been changed by global warming, to reveal the land beneath. The Antarctic Peninsula has become colonised. Austral Morales Ferraro is a genetically modified ethnic minority, who is related to a prominent family. With no financial support from them, Austral has had to make her own way in the world. Now she is a warden in a labour camp and in too deep with one of the most influential inmates. When the situation conspires for her to be involved in a kidnapping, Austral decides to take matters into her own hands and keep the ransom for herself, so she can begin a new life. But in doing that she has to avoid being caught by not only the authorities, but also her lover’s henchmen. All this has to be done while dragging along her captive, a teenage girl not equipped to handle an extended time out in the wilderness.

Austral, on the other hand, has been adapted to survive the harsh environment and as a result is bigger and stronger than other women, as well as possessing extra layers of fat, which help her stay warm against the cold. She is therefore not some sexy, lithe kickass warrior, but the type of heroine who gets through life and dire situations on sheer grit and determination. She certainly needs plenty of that in what is effectively a pursuit thriller set in the wilderness of a future Antarctica.

The place is now a new, frontier world and one which is described in a way that is entirely believable. That it is seen through the eyes of Austral, and her backstory, lends weight to a reader’s ability to get emotionally involved with her.

The notion that the uncovering of this continent will one day be a reality and the people living in it will not only have to survive the place, but also each other, makes for an engaging narrative.

Austral was courtesy of Gollancz via NetGalley

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