A review by Lynne Larby
Kakadu Sunsets are gorgeous but underlying danger lurks, threatening the lives of locals and tourists alike. Ellie Porter is a helicopter pilot taking tourists on scenic flights over Kakadu, a World Heritage listed park in the Northern Territory in Australia. Her family fractured after her father’s suicide so, although she has friends, she doesn’t allow anyone to get close.
Kane McLaren is an Afghanistan veteran who refuses to fly after an accident left him injured and his crew dead. Makowa Lodge, the tourist resort at which Ellie works, hires Kane as an engineer to maintain their helicopters in the hopes that Kane will also join their pilot roster.
Kakadu is under threat from mining companies intent on boosting their bottom line by fracking, thus poisoning the water supply and killing the national park. Sinister figures and shadow companies will stop at nothing, not even murder, to ensure that the mining goes ahead.
Although Kakadu Sunset is first and foremost a romance, it passes the Bechdel Test for books because women talk to one another and not just about men. Although they do talk about men.
Kane has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his experiences in Afghanistan. His recovery during life-threatening escapades is lightning-fast. His symptoms are consistent with those of veterans and survivors of other trauma but his swift recovery may inspire unrealistic expectations. It is my hope that the representation of this mental health issue will be received in the best possible way, with readers understanding that his recovery takes place in a short romance novel and is not a blueprint for real-world recovery.
Many Indigenous Australians — Aborigines — feature in Kakadu Sunset. Some of the representation is a bit problematic. Referring to ‘clans’ is not recommended and characters are introduced as ‘Aborigine’ instead of showing-not-telling appearances as with white characters who are NOT introduced as ‘Irish’ but, for example, are verbally sketched then have an Irish accent when they speak. Most significantly, Bill and Heather (father and daughter) are the only First Nations people who play significant roles. I liked Heather in the beginning — she is feisty and potentially complicated — but then she’s reduced to two dimensions. Nor does Bill’s behaviour make sense within the sequence of events. There aren’t any First Nations heroes to balance the scales although they could have been key in search-and-rescue operations.
Annie Seaton’s acknowledgements include thanking her helicopter-training flight instructor but there are no similar acknowledgements indicating research into First Nations cultures although she’s included key characters and mentioned many more who are Indigenous. As a person with a disability, I criticise authors who write disability without research so I believe First Nations people will, likewise, criticise Kakadu Sunset. (Thanks to Dr Anita Heiss and Karen Wyld whom I consulted for this review.)
Although Kakadu Sunset is fiction, corruption is known in mining and development industries as well as in Australian politics. Fracking threatens Australia’s water supplies and agriculture and can cause earthquakes. And if you think Gina Rinhart has taken over Australia’s largest cattle station to diversify into agriculture, you were born yesterday. I predict the first most Australians will know of her ripping up the ground will be when the meat on our tables is poisoned through poor mining practices for which taxpayers are presented with a multi-billion-dollar cleanup bill. I applaud Seaton for raising these concerns in a novel that appeals to readers in Australia and overseas.
Kakadu Sunset balances romance with thriller, however the end is a little saccharine-sweet with the thriller-tension fizzing a little where readers should be on the edge of their seats. The setting, the descriptions of Kakadu, inspire me to visit and terrify me. Ellie and Kane’s sweet romance inspires me to forge ahead to book 2 of the Porter Sisters, hoping for a similar romance for Ellie’s sister Emma in Daintree.
AWARDS for Kakadu Sunset
- Shortlisted for AusRomToday Cover of the Year 2016
- Shortlisted for Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) Romantic Book of the Year 2016
- Shortlisted for AusRomToday Book of the Year 2016
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Imprint: Macmillan Australia (PanMacmillan)