The Road to Winter by Mark Smith, paperback novel, 230 pages, published by Text Publishing in 2016.
Finn watched as his little town on the Victorian coast was ravished by a mysterious virus, leaving few survivors. Finn is a survivor, and he has kept himself and his dog, Rowdy, alive for the past two years, despite his youth. He’s also escaped the notice of the violent gangs of Wilders who have taken control of the land to the north. A girl suddenly appears on Finn’s beach, injured, tired and running from the Wilders. He makes a split decision to help her; he is not alone any more, but she does pose a huge complication to his otherwise repetitive life of hunting and surfing.
What a debut for Mark Smith! An intense dystopian novel set in Australia, The Road to Winter is about the struggles to survive in a world turned upside down. There are also themes of friendship and love, including the special bond that Finn has with Rowdy. I really got wrapped up in this story as I read. I stayed up late to finish reading it, and when I awoke the following morning, all I could think about was getting back into the book to find out what happened next. I was extremely disappointed when I remembered that I’d already finished it and the next one isn’t available yet.
Such rich characters, having experienced loss, trauma and hardship. In some ways they are all broken, but they also possess much strength to have survived the sickness and the collapse of society. I really liked Finn, his gentle and caring nature, his independence and his love for Rowdy. He is quite resourceful also, trapping rabbits and diving for abalone to eat. Rose and Kas are much more feisty, and maybe even more determined to survive than Finn. They are also capable, clever and beautiful. Ramage, on the other-hand, is cruel and vindictive, a truly ugly person capable of the most heinous acts. I think many of the Wilders do Ramage’s bidding because they are frightened of him, and with good cause. It’s a shame the virus didn’t take him out! The sound of his trail bike is chilling; it announces impending hostility and fear, hard to forget.
The author has included a rather controversial and topical aspect to this story in the form of ‘Sileys’. This is slang for asylum seekers. In the story these ‘Sileys’ were bought and sold like slaves, property for their owners to do with as they saw fit. Australia is currently up in arms about the treatment of asylum seekers, who face off-shore detention in poor conditions indefinitely. It’s scary to think that our current methods of processing asylum seekers could ever devolve into open slave labour like in the story.
A thrilling read, The Road to Winter is suitable for high school students. It is to be the first in a series, so now I have to wait (trying to be patient, and failing miserably!) for the next book.