cover image Terra Nullius

Terra Nullius

Claire G. Coleman. Small Beer, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61873-151-7

Coleman stuns with this imaginative, astounding debut about colonization. Coleman is a member of the Noongar people of Australia; when she writes of a dry land where settlers enslave the natives and carry out a ruthless extermination campaign against those they cannot pacify, readers will naturally assume that the story is set in Australia, though the setting remains nameless. The book begins as Jacky flees the homestead where he is kept in servitude and frequently beaten. He is headed home even though he no longer remembers where that is. Sergeant Rohan of the Colonial Troopers is tasked with capturing the young man, so he recruits some settler lads and pursues Jacky through the hot and forbidding terrain. Coleman broadens the narrative by including characters such as Esperance, a young leader in a camp of free natives, and Johnny Star, who roams with a band of native outlaws. Midway through, Coleman suddenly upends the narrative with the revelation that the settlers are not what they seem. With this twist, Coleman universalizes the experiences of invaded indigenous populations in a way that has seldom been achieved. Artfully combining elements of literary, historical, and speculative fiction, this allegorical novel is surprising and unforgettable. (Sept.)