a review by Nalini Haynes
Cloud Road is part two of the Kingdom of the Lost by Isobelle Carmody. This is a gorgeous little hardcover book aimed at younger readers, complete with pen and ink drawings scattered throughout.
Bily and Zluty are brothers who’ve lost their home after a storm. They set out to find the Vale of Bell Flowers with Redwing, an intelligent bird, and Monster, a cat-like creature who was injured in the storm. Travelling west through the desert pulling their wagon behind them, they face challenges like finding water and not getting eaten in the process. They make friends on their journey while learning more about their world, but their own origins remain a mystery.
This gentle story holds sufficient action and suspense to keep the young reader engaged but not overwhelmed. There is danger but it’s not excessive (depending on the child of course). Themes include survival during and after a crisis (for example earthquake or bushfire); loss and homelessness; destruction of animals and habitat for ‘progress.’ Cloud Road could be a launching point for classroom discussions and further exploration, engaging children whose lives may be enriched or even saved with good teaching.
The language is deceptively simple, conveying complex world-building and inter-species communication difficulties. Some of the latter provides humour: I can imagine reading this to a class in early primary school who would be delighted at being ‘in the know’, engaging with this story as with a pantomime.
Cloud Road is a delightful read for parents to share with their children and a must-have for the SF fan to train their progeny up in the way that they should go. This story will engage children at the right stage to read independently; many children given this novel will continue to reread and treasure it. I envisage the current generation of children sharing Cloud Road with their children because the story is timeless.
Writers learning the craft should read Cloud Road as a study in voice. All the characters are alien on this nameless planet, with striking speech patterns. Their language is consistent within their species alongside subtle differences for individual characters. The two point of view characters, Bily and Zluty, influence the narrative voice. This voice carries a slightly alien intonation although feeling more human than the dialogue AND YET the language used is deceptively simple. Recently I read another novel where the protagonists’ foreign speech patterns were carried wholesale into the narrative voice; this I found jarring. Carmody’s narrative voice flows, sweeping the reader along. I think she succeeds because the grammar is good, the language is simple and yet the slight alien ‘accent’ – a hint of word patterns conveying images of a foreign world – continually reminds the reader we’re in an alien world.
Ok, rave over.
I can’t help it – I’ve been studying voice, register, tone etcetera at university, then I read THIS. Cloud Road should be a core text, used for discussion in class.
Who do I have to mug to get a hardcover copy of volume one, the Red Wind?