Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Severed Land by Maurice Gee: Book Review

This gripping, page-turning fantasy adventure follows a dangerous quest through a divided world.

From the high reaches of a tree, Fliss watches the soldiers attempting yet again to break through the invisible wall. Amid the explosions, a drummer boy tries to escape. As he is about to be shot, Fliss reaches through the wall and pulls him to safety. But Fliss is dismayed to find she has saved an overfed rich boy. She is even more dismayed to learn that she must accompany him back through the wall on a special mission to rescue the Nightingale.

The world they have to travel through is a perilous one, full of predatory thieves, slave masters, beggars, dippers, mudlarks, drain-sliders, spies and wall-men. It is a world where the ruling families are caught up in a lethal power struggle.

Will Fliss and the despised drummer boy learn to trust each other? Who is the Nightingale? And will they all make it back alive?


To read a novel that was clearly young adult but set in a fantasy world based in an olden-day time of slavery was slightly unnerving, if I’m being completely honest. I was absolutely certain that reading this story with the protagonist being considered a slave for the fact that her skin is black would set me in an uncomfortable ease the whole way through; unfortunately that feeling stuck and made it hard for me to really try and see past the discrimination. Maurice Gee is a well-known New Zealand based author who has written titles such as Under The Mountain and the Salt trilogy and has won multiple literary awards for his writing. I have never read his work before this so I had no clue as to what I would be immersing myself in. I received The Severed Land from Penguin Random House as a uniquely wrapped package – the book itself was wrapped within a blown up poster print of the map inside the book, a brief message from the author explaining his writing hiatus, and everything was tied up in a twine bow.

One thing I felt I could relate to was the character of Fliss with her fiery personality and confidence. She has spent three years on the safe side of the wall that divides the land to keep the Families of the south out - the two most powerful being the Despiners and the Morisettes. The northern side of the wall is filled with natives of the land who have never known slavery and the People of the forest who sacrificed their lives to create this wall to keep them safe and out of reach. Fliss had escaped slavery from the south, spending many days and nights scavenging for food and safe places to hide while she fled towards her new home. Fliss has learnt to value herself through love, acceptance, and the knowledge that she is stronger and smarter than anyone may think of her. When she meets this drummer boy, Kirt, who is arrogant and simple-minded, nothing hateful he says seems to offend her and this becomes the starting point of character development between these two characters.

Other than the parts that slightly bothered me, all the grammar, punctuation, and style of writing was absolutely impeccable. This was clearly set in a time where cannons and swords were still being used as a form of attack and defence within their army’s. It definitely felt like a novel that would appeal more to those that take interest in old-fashioned stories or people of an older age – being a YA novel was clearly due to Fliss being of a young age, though considering the opinions of todays readers–specifically in the USA–this novel may not be such a hit with many who have previously felt targeted by skin colour and ethnicity, religion or culture, and mental or physical disabilities. I have seen personally how much of the book community has reacted recently to a few books where authors have only made the mistake of not including or accidentally discriminating against someone for something so obvious and hurtful. As much as it bothers me to say, I don’t think this book would go down well with many readers like myself and therefore would suit maybe an older, more mature audience that might be able to take this story with knowledge and acceptance that times like those have been and gone. For generations of people who have grown up without the old European mentality that being different is wrong, this novel would not exactly fit well within many of our expectations and I personally don’t want to feel like I want to have to bring down a NZ author anymore than I need to. This has not biased me towards Maurice Gee’s other works; I’d still like to check out his other stand-alone novels and series’. All I can say for The Severed Land is that I honestly feel like I cannot promote it anymore than what I feel I should and being a kiwi myself it feels almost wrong to be so brutally honest, but I hate the idea of lying and going against the grain of my community.

I have given this book a two out of five stars because it at least deserves to be noted as a book that has been written by an author who clearly knows his way around literature and art. It truly is a masterpiece of words but not so much considering his targeted audience - he may have had better luck with an older audience, I really hope so.
So without any other random and unnecessary chatter, I will end with this gif and leave this terribly short review to simmer away slowly into the depths of the internet.

Thank you Penguin NZ for the review copy

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Buy it on the Penguin Random House NZ website HERE

My Spotify Playlist for

The Severed Land

(This was my small effort - I tried, guys! I really did!)

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