Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading Challenge.

Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti is one of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press (12 boutique collections of stories by Australian women writers). It is made up of five shorter stories, including:

  • Shades of Grey
  • Palming the Lady
  • Web of Lies
  • Bad Power
  • Cross That Bridge

This is the first work by Ms Biancotti that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. The five stories are set it the same world, a version of modern Australia where some people have highly unique and personalised powers (the exception being the short story Bad Power which is set in the same world but in an earlier time period).

I think the setting established in this collection would lend itself well to a longer story as well, and this collection did an excellent job at establishing a very interesting background if Ms Biancotti ever decided to go in that direction.

I loved the way the stories related. They were very cleverly crafted to fit in to one other well. Minor characters introduced in one story become dominant in another. I don’t think you’d get anywhere near as much impact/understanding if you read the stories out of order. The writing is fairly dark but with very balanced characters and each story contains an interesting exploration of aspects of human nature and how people react to the unknown.

Shades of Grey introduces the world and Samuel Rainer (“Esser”) Grey, a wealthy man used to getting his own way in life who finds that he is literally indestructible and isn’t impressed. It is an interesting exploration of a man who, through both his wealth and his power, finds himself living a consequence free life and the lengths he goes to in order to try and re-introduce consequences into it to feel more human. This is not a pleasant tale – Ms Biancotti takes Grey to a dark place. But as a result the story packed more of a punch.

Palming the Lady takes a minor character from the first story, Detective Enora Palmer and makes her the lead. In this story, she is investigating a complaint by a university student (Matthew Webb – somewhat unlikeable in this story which is unfortunate given our shared last name) about being stalked by a homeless woman. It turns out the homeless woman has a power as well. I liked the way the unnamed homeless woman was described, taking the reader from a superficial description of her appearance (mimicking most of our initial reactions to homeless people) to making her a very sympathetic, richly described character, all without telling us her name.

Web of Lies focuses on in on the Matthew Webb character. His father has just died, and it turns out that Webb has a power as well, one that his father has kept him medicated against for most of his life. The story is mostly told from Webb’s drug/alcohol/hangover addled perspective. With Webb’s disintegration we also see his mother’s emergence from her own prescription drug haze. The mother character is very interesting/chilling, and by the end of the story I found myself rethinking the entire family power dynamics.

Bad Power was very interesting. Told in first person and in a different (much earlier) time period, it tells the story of one of the first people in Australia to have emerging powers and the reaction of those around her. The style of story telling is very different, and to be honest it took me a couple of pages to work out what was going on (the connection between the first three stories is a lot clearer, this one you have to work at a bit). The story telling is strong and quite dark, but the ending is more surprising as a result. Having finished the book and looking back, I would say this is probably my favourite story of the lot although I might not have said that when I was in the middle of reading it. I think the shift in time and setting worked well to provide a contrast to the other stories.

Cross That Bridge is back to modern Australia, this time focusing on Detective Palmer’s new partner Detective Maxillius Ponti. Detective Ponti has a knack for finding lost children and uses it to track down Angie, a young girl who has used a power of her own to leave her suburban life behind. It is probably the most optimistic of the five stories, with Detective Ponti seeming comfortable with his power and using it for good. It nicely rounds out the collection.

The blurb for this book says “If you like Haven and Heroes, you’ll love Bad Power“. Having just watched season 1 of Haven, I can certainly see where the comparison is coming from – Detective Palmer reminded me a lot of Special Agent Audrey Parker and the view of powers as more of a curse than a blessing is a theme that runs through both shows. Bad Power is sufficiently different as to stand apart though – as much as I enjoyed Haven, Bad Power is a much more intelligent treatment of the subject.

This is an excellent collection, and I highly recommend it.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

Creative Commons License
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

11 thoughts on “Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti – review”

    1. Couldn't agree more. Is it wrong of me to be really hoping that Deborah writes a novel based in this world? (For the purposes of this comment I've decided I'm on a first name basis because she friended me on Goodreads – possibly presumptuous). I think there is excellent scope for an interesting, longer form story here.

      I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone, but yes I think that men would like it. The character of Grey in the first story for instance behaves quite unsympathetically but was certainly someone I could relate to it some ways.

      An all round excellent book.


    1. Thanks Shelleyrae. Sadly my holiday break is over now, so my reading will slow down. Hope you enjoy the book if you get a chance to read it!


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