Summerton is the most perfect, idyllic city on the coast of New Zealand. It's always pleasant weather, the crime rate is spectacularly low, and the tourism business is booming. Something dark lies under the surface, though, and when three teens—Keri, Janna, and Sione—catch a glimpse of that darkness in their brother's suicides, they start to unearth the secrets behind Summerton's isolation from the world.
Karen Healey's second novel (after Guardian of the Dead) artfully draws from The Golden Bough to create a tense, supernatural thriller set in a sinister small town. It's not a terribly difficult mystery to work out if you're a little familiar with Frazer's myth of the sacrificial king (which, in my case, translates to "watched Eureka Seven"), but it's well-executed and shows the price of cutting a community off from the world for an artificial tranquility. Healey also trades the Māori mythology that drove Guardian of the Dead for more familiar Western witchcraft, which is kind of a disappointment—the Māori mythology was really one of the highlights of her debut novel, and she actually took the time necessary to acknowledge colonialist issues surrounding Māori culture—but it makes The Shattering a little more accessible.
The main attraction, though, are the three central characters and their stories. Alternating between their points of view gives the reader a chance to see each character through the other's eyes, which gives them considerably more depth than attainable through single point-of-view. They've all got their struggles and defy normality as well, and Healey does an excellent job letting her cast be diverse in a variety of ways without tokenizing anyone's experiences: Keri is a lesbian and struggles for most of the book with the logistics of coming out; Janna is a punk-rocker who jumps from fling to fling and stands up to anyone who tries to shame her for that; and Sione is a shy Samoan boy balancing his feelings with everyone else's. The characters themselves can be a lot more interesting than the plot—which is already pretty strong to start with—and their relationship (and the fraying it endures) begins to play a major factor in the plot itself during the last third.
The Shattering is Healey's second novel (she's just released her third, When We Wake, which I am currently very excited to read), and it's a marked improvement from Guardian of the Dead. I, for one, am definitely keeping my eye on her future books.
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