Book review: The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina

6 10 2018

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Indigenous Australian (Palyku) legal academic, novelist, and illustrator. She has written several children’s picture books and YA novels, of which the latter (notably ‘The Tribe’ trilogy) merge themes of dystopia, sustainability, and Indigenous lore. Her YA novel debut The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf was shortlisted for the Aurealis Award in 2013.

TheInterrogationOfAshalaWolf

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf isn’t one of those novels with an evasive or even misleading title: it is what it says on the tin. Its protagonist, de facto leader of a group of teens with unusual abilities—Ashala’s own ability, in essence, is flight-capable sleepwalking, managed through lucid dreaming—has been captured by administrators who are determined to see such traits stamped out, even if this means stamping out the individuals carrying such abilities. But Ashala is as determined to keep concealed her knowledge of her mutually-adoptive Tribe’s location, numbers, and range of represented abilities as those arrayed against her—administrator Neville Rose, neuroscientist Miriam Grey, strangely-familiar guard Connor—are determined to learn her secrets, through whatever means are required. As her incarceration stretches on and as the danger to her (and her friends) grows, Ashala begins to suspect she’s missing something…

Interrogation has something of the form expected of a dystopian YA novel, valiant teens arrayed against an untrustworthy adult power structure, with a mostly-clear demarcation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but the inclusion—arguably, the centrality—of Indigenous storytelling and environmentalism adds a few different levels to this form. The result is a broadly enjoyable self-contained trilogy-opener with a sure sense of itself and a focus on truth, loyalty, and friendship.

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