The Foundling's Tale Book 1
May 2006, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 434 pp, ISBN 0-399-24638-X
It's really refreshing to see a young adult fantasy novel set in Australia, or an Australia-y setting. There may be scads of them out there but I've only read a handful so my refreshment is legitimate.
The first clue to the novel's antipodean setting comes with the glorious map of the Half-Continent (it really is the apotheosis of fantasy novel maps, and created by the author to boot).
If you squint at it you'll notice a passing resemblance to the south-east corner of Australia, with the focus on a city in a somewhat Adelaidean location (the author lives in Adelaide).
I'm willing to bet the Half-Continent is in the Southern Hemisphere, too.
The pattern of civilization on the landmass also resembles Australia, with towns and cities dotting the edges of a vast interior wilderness ... it makes me think of Phillip Drew's The Coast Dwellers: Australians Living on the Edge (1994) and poet A. D. Hope's Australia.
Drew theorized about the importance to Australian identity of (the majority of the population's) place at the fringes of an island-continent. Hope wrote:
... her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second-hand Europeans pullulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.
And when you get into it, the world Cornish has built so vividly is a colonial one, with humans pullulating on the edge of the alien interior, a wild region infested with monsters. Human technology is at a steampunk level, but based on biological engineering ... more Mary Shelley than Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
More of that in later books, however ... the first book in the series is the familiar tale of an orphan going out into the world.
Rossamünd, bookish, raised in a foundlingery, dreams of a life of adventure but is the last-picked of his peers for an apprenticeship - being chosen for a lamplighter of all things. Leaving his bullying nemesis and kindly mentors behind to make his way to lamplighter HQ, he is immediately plunged into adventure.
Encountering villains, monsters, and monster-fighters, Rossamünd begins to have doubts about his society's insistence that the only good monster is a dead monster.
And that's exactly the kind of nuance fantasy novels should have (insert plug for Hugh Cook here) ... be suspicious of novels where there's a clear axis of evil.
Foundling is a real delight of worldbuilding, sprinkled with fun, deftly-defined neologisms and illustrations to create a vivid, immersive world.
- Foundling (Amazon.com)