FLIGHT OF THE FANTAIL
Author: Steph Matuku
Publisher: Huia (NZ)
Format: eBook, 314 pages
Genre: YA | Horror | SF
Back Cover Blurb
A bus full of high school students crashes in remote bush. Only a few of the teenagers survive; they find their phones don’t work, there’s no food, and they’ve only got their wits to keep them alive. There’s also something strange happening here. Why are the teenagers having nosebleeds and behaving erratically, and why is the rescue effort slow to arrive? To make it out, they have to discover what’s really going on and who is behind it all. Why are the teenagers having nosebleeds and behaving erratically, and why is the rescue effort slow to arrive? To make it out, they have to discover what’s really going on and who is behind it all.
What I Thought
Straight out the gate Steph Matuku let’s us know exactly what kind of characters we’re going on a journey with in Flight of the Fantail. From a clever opening that intros us to the usual high school types we’ve come to expect. From the cliche bullying Pretty Party Girls Idelle and Chantelle, to the jocks Rocky, Jahmin and Liam, and Mandy and Eva, through to our erstwhile heroine: Devin. Each is well fleshed out from the get go as we follow them either adapt to circumstances … or not.
What I also liked, a lot, was the author’s skilful use of voice and perspective giving us not one or two POVs but several. All of which, I felt, helped in fleshing out the plot and giving the action another edge when things start to unravel.
Which brings us to setting. When the bus carrying the students crashes in the forest and not just any forest, one that’s off limits because of a weird anomaly, we know this is going to be a familiar YA trope. But wait, Matuku throws in a curve ball, and gave me one of the biggest surprises I never saw coming. I love being blindsided, and Matuku does that several time throughout this fast-paced read.
The setting itself is almost a character in and of itself and plays a part in adding to the drama, upping the anti as the weather and conditions begin to take their toll of the surviving students, in a hostile environment that none are prepared to deal with. Not on any level.
And yes, it gets weird fast.
Throw in some snappy dialogue, plenty of snark and friction between the teens, and you have all the right ingredients even before you throw in the big reveal. But, sadly, I can’t talk about that otherwise I’ll spoil the surprise. And let me assure you, it’s well worth it. I loved where the author took this one, putting these poor kids through the emotional, physical, and mental wringer and then … well, there again, no spoilers.
Which brings us to the over all arc and plot. As I said, the reveal and then, what takes place next were, for me, so well done and unexpected, that I really felt for this poor crew having to deal with threats from all corners. The weather, the forest, the anomaly, each other and then, those who were supposed to be rescuing them.
For a short book, 314 pages, I think, this one sure packs one hell of a punch. From page one we’re off and running and within a heartbeat, we’re careening off a cliff down into a gorge and fighting for our lives, in a fast flowing river. From there on in, it’s survival of the fittest and more. I especially enjoyed the bond that eventually formed between Rocky, Jahmin, Eva and Devin that, in the end, helped them survive everything the forest threw at them.
Matuku certainly knows her characters and deftly brought out each character’s fears, insecurity, grief, and yes, resourcefulness. If you want to hook up with a bunch of teens fighting for their lives in inordinately difficult circumstances, then jump in to FLIGHT OF THE FANTAIL and be prepared to use every wit you have to get out alive.
Short, sharp, action-filled chapters, gripping and gory in places, this one is a rip-roaring wild ride right on through to the end.