Debris by Jo Anderton – review

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


Debris is the debut novel from Jo Anderton, a Sydney based author.

This story has an interesting premise – a world that has been built around a form of magic, the manipulation of tiny particles called pions. The resulting society is not your typical medieval high-fantasy arrangement, rather represents an alternative development path that has incorporated pions into technology to reach a more urban level of development. I’d almost classify it as having a steampunk sensibility, that mixture of cool “technology” that can do some fantastic things, but with a slightly old fashioned feel.

The main character, Tanyana, is one of the elite in this world, able to manipulate pions to an astonishing degree. She is an architect who, with a linked circle of nine assistants, is able to use pions to create buildings and monuments of astonishing scale and aesthetic. She is in the middle of creating her greatest work so far when something goes horribly wrong. From her perspective she is attacked by “angry” pions. From everyone else’s perspective she loses control. When she wakes up in the hospital she has lost her ability to see and manipulate pions, but can now see the debris that pion manipulation leaves behind. The hospital also bonds her to a silver metal substance that can morph to create a suit or crude weapons which she can use to collect the debris.

This immediately catapults her from the highest tiers of society to the lowest – the ability to see and collect debris is considered a necessary but “dirty” profession. The rest of the story documents her struggle to accept her new role amongst the have-nots and work out what happened to her.

Character development of Tanyana is strong with a realistic, if irritating at times, reaction to such a major fall from grace. The slow development makes some of the later revelations more powerful, even if you feel like yelling at Tanyana to snap out of it at times. The story focuses almost exclusively on Tanyana, so other characters are not as well developed but enough is sketched out for the purposes of the story and perhaps future novels.

The relationships Tanyana formed with those immediately around her were generally adequately developed as well, although I thought one of the more romantic relationships didn’t read as well as the others. It made the eventual resolution of that relationship have less of an emotional impact for me, but this is a minor quibble.

I found the world building interesting. Details of the world, its background and history, as well as information on how the magic works, were sketchy. I didn’t mind this – I enjoy books that fill in the background gradually as you go. If this was a stand alone book, I would have felt a little dissatisfied with the amount of detail provided by the end. As the first book in a series, I guess I’ll just need to buy the sequel to find out more!

The plot moved along at a reasonable, but not particularly fast, pace. There were a couple of points at which I did find myself thinking that Tanyana could spend a little less time moping and a little more time getting on with things, but that probably says more about me than the novel.

It should be noted that Ms Anderton has also released a free short prequel story to Debris on her website. It gives a taste of the events leading up to the start of Debris – you don’t need to have read it to enjoy Debris, but it does set the scene for what is to follow.

So, I enjoyed this novel and will be reading the next in the series, Suited, when it is released by Angry Robot later in the year. Nice writing, good core idea and a world that I am very curious to find out more about.

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


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

Author: mark

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

OK, sometimes good.

8 thoughts on “Debris by Jo Anderton – review”

  1. I agree with most of your review, especially the underdeveloped romantic relationship — that bothered me a little, too. Also that the characters other than Tanyana are a little underdeveloped. However, I disagree about the world building. I thought Anderton told us as much as we needed to know. In fact, near the ending, I was surprised at how much was revealed, particularly given the world-building resolution (as opposed to a story-arch resolution) couldn't come until book two.

    Thanks for posting your review! It's always interesting to read what other people think of books I've read.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tsana. Yes, I always find approaches to world building interesting. I generally like a "less is more" approach, but sometimes when a world grabs me I like hear a lot more details. Perhaps my own impatience lies behind my reaction!

      I'm looking forward to the next in the series.

      -m

    1. Yes, it seems to be a very popular and well received debut novel. Will be interested to see how it goes in awards season.

      Thanks Shelleyrae,

      -m

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