The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina. ★★★1/2
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a fairly original YA dystopian with a lot of different concepts and a unique tone.
In the future, long after the earth was almost completely destroyed due to environmental catastrophe, the new society is focused on keeping the Balance so that the world will not be destroyed again. Only problem? There exist those with fantastical powers that are kept in detention, because their gifts put them outside the Balance and endanger the world order. All children must be tested for these powers at age fourteen. Ashala ran away at age twelve and is now the leader of the Tribe, a group of run away children and teens who live in the wilderness beyond Gull City.
But Ashala’s been captured. She’s in the hands of the enemy, Chief Administrator Neville Rose, who’s intent on using her to go after the rest of the Tribe. Even hooked up to a machine that searches through her memories, can she keep her secrets and her Tribe safe?
The synopsis might clue you in, but Ashala Wolf is not the sort of YA dystopian that’s action packed with fight scenes. Instead, it’s largely composed of flashbacks that explain the current situation and Ashala’s secrets. It’s the Christopher Nolan of YA dystopians.
Actually, the entire set up of the dystopia is unusual. For one thing, it’s a democracy and Ashala and her friends aren’t trying to overthrow the entire system. They actually agree with the concept of the Balance, but they believe that those with gifts are part of the Balance. Additionally, they’re not trying to change the world with violence. They expressively state that they want to use ideas instead, and in a democratic system this largely consists of grass root campaigns, peaceful protests, and legislative reforms. Where else have you ever seen this in a YA dystopia?
Also, the novel respects its readers and doesn’t go overboard on making the government evil. For instance, I’m pretty sure that most YA dystopias (*coughLegendcough*) would have the government secretly killing the detained, because sending children to prison isn’t “evil enough” or something. Whereas, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf expects that its readers can figure out that the loss of freedom is a bad thing.
Also, where most Standard YA Dystopian Heroines become the figurehead of some sort of resistance, Ashala’s actually a leader. She’s a very empathetic protagonist, and a large part of why she is the leader is because she cares so deeply for the people she gathers around her.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that while Kwaymullina is depicting a post racial world, Ashala is of Indigenous Australian descent and that Indigenous mythology plays a role in the novel.
On the negative sides, the writing style’s serviceable but not great and the book risks becoming preachy about environmentalism. What really makes Ashala Wolf shine is its originality. However, the romance subplot is the least original aspect. It contains the Compulsory Heterosexual Romance with a heavy coating of Twin Souls. Luckily, it wasn’t that prevalent.
If you’re interested in YA dystopia or looking for something lighter to read, I’d certainly suggest The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.