by Ambelin Kwaymullina
“I was sad for everything the girl would never be and for a society that drove people with abilities into horrible places and horrible choices. For all the lost chances, and all the lost people.”
After rescuing the detainees from Detention Centre Three, and exposing Chief Administrator Neville Rose’s violation of the Benign Technology Accords, Ashala and Connor escaped back to the Firstwood. But Ashala has been living with her wolves since their return, keeping herself apart from Connor and the Tribe. As a Sleepwalker, she can affect the real world through her dreams, and since the events of The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, she has been suffering fierce nightmares that make her fear she will hurt someone she cares about. But the disappearance of Ember, one of the other leaders of the Tribe, pulls her back to her duty. Ashala doesn’t really believe that Ember would leave the Tribe of her own free will. But has she been taken, or has she been caught up in something so dangerous that she is staying away in order to protect them?
Along with Georgie, who can catch glimpses of the future, Ember is one of the Illegals who helps Ashala lead the Tribe. Her ability to alter memories was central to the Tribe’s plans to infiltrate the detention centre and expose Neville Rose’s plans to the world. Ashala remains the narrator of the book, but significant portions of the middle section are related from Ember’s point-of-view. The use of Ember’s ability is a less explosive twist because it is no longer as much of a narrative surprise, but Ambelin Kwaymullina still finds clever ways to incorporate it into the story.
In The Disappearance of Ember Crow, dissent against the Citizenship Accords that bind people with abilities is growing thanks to the work of the Tribe, and a change in the leadership of Gull City. However, the narrative centers on developing the backstory of Ashala’s world, and specifically how their society grew up out of the ashes of the old world. The Reckoning itself is not much discussed, nor do we learn the origin of Illegals’ abilities. It is mentioned that immediately after the Reckoning, only very few people had abilities, suggesting that they are either an artefact of the new world, or a very rare carry over from the old that has now become more common. Instead, Kwaymullina focuses on Alexander Hoffman, the near-prophetic figure who was instrumental to defining the principles of the new society. We also delve into the origin of the Citizenship Accords, the laws that prevent Illegals from using their abilities, or existing as full Citizens.
In the midst of all these revelations, Ashala and Connor track Ember to Spinifex City, where another old world spirit sleeps. Ashala realizes that as with many of the Tribe, she knows very little about Ember’s life before the Firstwood. Her father may be dead, but it turns out that he was not the only member of Ember’s family. Her living siblings are as unique as she is, and some of them are even more dangerous. The Disappearance of Ember Crow is a promising and revelatory addition to the Tribe series, leading into the final volume of the trilogy, due to be released in North America in May 2017.