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Liar’s Test

By Ambelin Kwaymullina

Reviewed by Helen Gearing

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an award-winning Aboriginal author and illustrator from the Palyku people of Western Australia. Her books for children (ranging from picture books to YA dystopian novels) have won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, the Aurealis Award, and multiple CBCA notable listings. Liar’s Test is Book 1 of ‘The Silverleaf Chronicles,’ Kwaymullina’s latest YA series, and is perfect for readers thirteen+ who enjoy action-packed fantasy, a conversational first-person narrator, and political intrigues.
‘Uncle Dar said that when someone hurt you, being happy was the best revenge. But I was thinking something else. I was thinking revenge was the best revenge.’
When 15-year-old Bell Silverleaf is mysteriously chosen to compete in the Queen’s Test – a deadly challenge to determine the next ruler of the Risen Kingdom – she is determined to win and wreak havoc on the society which, at the bidding of its fickle gods, conquered her people, the Treesingers, many generations ago.
Bell is also determined to find Blue, a spirit who saved her life and became her friend after she was separated from her family and captured by a zealous Risen faction. Bell is convinced that Blue’s recent disappearance is linked to the secret he entrusted her with – a secret which could be leveraged to free her people.
However, before Bell can contemplate freedom for Treesingers she must survive the Test and find a cure to the mysterious sleeping illness which is devastating her family grove. At every turn, Bell needs her ancestors’ strength and assistance to unravel layers of half-truths and deceptions – not only perpetuated by her oppressors, but, as she slowly learns, by members of her own family.
Despite surface plot similarities with other YA speculative fiction featuring a ruthless competition and an oppressive elite society (e.g. The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner), Liar’s Test is distinctive in its rich world-building detail, including how an oppressive society can be created and manipulated by shadow actors and the power of a minority’s next generation in creating change.
Liar’s Test is a fascinating exploration of resistance, multi-generational trauma, the fallibility of historical narrative, and the effects of colonisation – all within a high-action fantasy packed with unexpected plot twists. Fans of Kwaymullina’s previous YA novels, as well as Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, will relish this story.
Teaching notes written by the author. Including the essay ‘Indigenous Futurisms, Aboriginal Women, and Liar’s Test’.
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