Review: Terra Nullius (Stella Shortlist)

Terra Nullius by [Coleman, Claire G.]


Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Jacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future.
The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.
This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.

I really enjoyed this novel. I read most of it in one sitting and was excited to blog about my impressions afterwards (a mark of a good book!).

As much as I enjoyed it, there were some things on my mind as I was reading it:

  • I would have preferred a more authentic historical voice from both the author and each of the characters to feel fully immersed in the colonial setting. However, as I sort of knew the twist that was coming (despite avoiding spoilers*) it didn’t bother me as much as it may have done otherwise.
  • It would have also been nice if the epigraphs at the start of each chapter were in distinct voices. However, after reading at the end that the author based these epigraphs on historical writings about her people, I mellowed in this stance!
  • I’m not a huge SF or spec lit reader but did think this element could have been more innovative.

(*Reviews of this novel are perfect examples of how other bloggers are sensitive about spoilers but newspapers and other media outlets seem to jump and take great joy at revealing the twist).

My response to some comments I’ve seen made by other reviewers

  • It was a little repetitive and verbose as others have said. The detail included about the colonisation of natives and subjugation comes under this umbrella. However, I took an overall impression away from the book rather than mulling over each point.
  • The characters were lacking in depth but this didn’t bother me in the context of the story.

So, it is clear that lots of things didn’t bother me and I just enjoyed the story!

After I finished reading this book, I knew I enjoyed it but didn’t know exactly how I felt about it. I went back to read reviews on some trusted blogs I follow and the main thing I took away is that it is commercial speculative fiction which is different to the fiction I usually read. In my mind, this genre makes it a curveball to reach a shortlist. Yet with this this genre in mind, I can easily overlook all the little niggles I mention above and take away that it was an enjoyable read.

Could it win the Stella? Yes, if the prize is as genuinely inclusive of all genres as it claims.


2 thoughts on “Review: Terra Nullius (Stella Shortlist)

  1. I felt much the same as you – not my usual thing, not in my top books for 2018 BUT very good at what it does. I reckon it ticks a few important boxes and might just win the Stella.

  2. I enjoyed reading your comments. If you’ve read my post you’ll know that I commented on some of the criticisms too, mainly because many of them came from my reading group.

    I must say that I haven’t seen it described as “commercial speculative fiction”. I wouldn’t describe it as that at all. I would have thought that the twist, plus those epigraphs, rather break the commercial genre formula and make it as something rather different?

    Re the so-called spoiler, I was surprised at all the caution about it. After all it occurs less than halfway through the book and even then you start to guess something in going on. I think it’s impossible to write about it properly if you can’t mention that – and I’m not really interested in blogging books if I can’t explore them in some depth.

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