The Sea-wreck Stranger Anna McKenzie, Longacre, 204 pages, paperback, NZ$18.99
Ness and Ty are orphans, living on their uncle’s isolated farm. The daily round of farm labour is heavy work; cows are milked by hand, wood is cut with an axe and a tinderbox is needed to start a fire. A strange feature of Dunnett Island is that all the islanders have turned their backs on the sea – fishing is strictly banned and items cast ashore are regarded as evil. Under the authoritarian spiritual rule of Colm Brewster, there are bans and book burnings. “Books make good fuel for the Cleansing Day fires.”
Everything changes for Ness when an unconscious stranger is found, washed up on the beach below the farm. Suspecting the islanders might kill him, she helps keep him hidden in a cave while he recovers. The man – named Dev – is soon improving and asking question Ness can’t always answer. At this point in the story Anna Mackenzie has skilfully placed an amazing surprise. Readers will suddenly realise that their preconceptions are wrong and all that has taken place now has to be looked at from an entirely different perspective. What follows is exciting and unexpected. Dev poses new hope for Ness but sufficient concerns remain to justify a sequel.
I look forward to it.
This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 8th December 2007.