Tessa is brave, strong and never cries. That is all she knows about herself after waking up in the bush near Hobart, Tasmania. Taken to hospital by a policewoman named Connolly, whose own daughter went missing in the bush, Tessa begins to slowly piece together who (or what) she is. The truth further unravels after she's sent to the elite boarding school Connolly's daughter disappeared from, and she begins to realise how interconnected the events are.
Thyla had the potential to be a great mystery, but I was disappointed that a major plot point seemed to be given away in the dedication. The title is also a big fat hint, if you know what it means (I didn't before reading it). Having an idea of what Tessa was meant that the big chunk of the book it took for her to figure it out was pretty damn frustrating. Still, I remained intrigued by the other mysteries: how Tessa ended up in the bush with no memory, how the memories she did have seemed to come from another time, and what happened to Cat. Unfortunately - without giving away any spoilers - the payoff was kinda anti-climatic for me.
I did appreciate the unique, very Australian take on the paranormal that Gordon creates in Thyla. However, the extensive dialogue explaining the world and mythology - at times when you wouldn't exactly expect characters to just stand there talking - felt forced. Plus, some things just didn't add up (more on that in the spoilery section below). The second person narration could also be jarring at times, as it wasn't consistently sustained throughout the novel.
What I loved about Thyla was the setting. There's something about Tasmania that is definitely spooky. It's so old, cold and isolated. The historical buildings and surrounding mountains and bush are the perfect breeding ground for the paranormal. Gordon effectively evokes these surroundings, creating a claustrophic atmosphere that heightens the tension between the characters who are stuck at the boarding school together.
I also liked that the inevitable love story took a backseat to the central mystery. While Tessa got all starry-eyed and distracted every time a certain guy was around, I liked the fact that at least he wasn't all she thought about. Tessa herself was likable enough, although I did get a bit over being told she was brave without her actually acting so. Thankfully, she eventually came through.
Overall, Thyla is a solid Aussie take on the paranormal genre, and I'm keen to see how the story develops in the sequel, Vulpi.
Spoilery Talking Points
- When Tessa follows Rin and her friends as they head out for a night bush walk, they handily pause from their apparently urgent activity to dicuss a bit of history at length. At this point, we're not supposed to know what they - or Tessa - are. Rin mentions something about the thylacines being smart when they let humans think they had all died out. Combined with the reference in the dedication to "Tessa the tiger", I figured that Tessa was a thylacine - a were-tiger (of the Tasmanian variety). Well, of course, she is - but apparently they don't transform into actual Tasmanian tigers - they're half-human, half-tiger hybrids. So they couldn't let humans think they've died out, when humans don't know they exist in the first place... right? OK, it's a minor point and I'm probably being nit-picky, but it bothered me.
- As I mentioned, I was glad to see the romance take a backseat. Which is why I was kinda disappointed that it totally took the wheel at the end. Probably because it had been a subplot, I wasn't majorly invested in it, so the way it was all of a sudden brought to the forefront - raising more questions than conclusions - was slightly frustrating.
- I really didn't like Cat. I know she's the focus of the next book, so I'm hoping seeing things from her perspective will help. Coz as it stands I think she's a selfish biatch.
Publishers seem to love putting pretty blonde girls on the cover of books, so I was surprised that, when the main character is actually blonde, they put a very obviously dark-haired girl on the cover. I'm assuming it's meant to be Rin - either that, or they didn't care what Tessa actually looked like. Anyway, I pictured Cariba Heine as Tessa, and James Sorenson as Perrin.
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