Monday, May 14, 2018


RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY by Katherine Dewar (2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Grammy night, 2021. Ruby wins 'Best Song' and makes an impulsive acceptance speech that excites nature lovers across the world. While Ruby and her band celebrate, an extreme evangelical sect, funded by covert paymasters, dispatches a disciple on a ruthless mission to England. As the band plays its sold-out tour, Ruby is pursued by eco-groupies insisting she use her new fame to fight climate change.

Back home, in rain-drenched Leeds, Ruby must confront a challenge not even tea, beer or her mum's veggie lasagne will make go away. In a storm and drought-plagued world, run by cynical old men and self-serving corporations, could one young woman lead change?

Torn between the demands of the climate campaigners and her bandmates, Ruby has to decide how much - and even who - she will sacrifice. 

First-time novelist Katherine Dewar delivers an intriguing tale that flows along wonderfully and gives readers plenty to think about: climate change and the environment, feminism and the marginalisation and abuse of women, fighting for things you believe, celebrity power, and music.

It's a concoction that will sit differently with different readers, but overall I really enjoyed the read.

With such an array of 'big issues' and challenging topics packed into the novel, it would have been easy for any author, let alone a debutant, to mishandle things and come off as preachy, but for me Dewar struck a good balance, weaving things into the narrative and action. Even where topics were directly addressed, it was in discussion between characters interested in such things who were debating what they could or should do - it tied into their character and relationships and actions rather than coming across as the author talking directly to the readership via a mouthpiece.

Ruby is an engaging character and a good 'in' for the readers. She's interesting, offbeat and individual enough to feel fresh but not forced. She's plunged into a whole new world of climate activism after speaking out at a music awards show. Suddenly she's seen as a hero to the cause by some, and a threat by others. When all she'd wanted before was to play music and make people care a little more.

RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY burbles along at quite a quick pace. The tale is largely told from Ruby's perspective, intercut with the voice of another who holds strikingly different views. Dewar handles the interchange well, building the tale and the tension, and gives the reader the opportunity to consider a various perspectives, not just her heroine's. There are times when the narrative lags a little, or not much seems to be happening, but even at these times Dewar keeps readers pretty engaged.

Along with the climate change theme, an issue that begets the 'inciting incident' early on in the story and continues to play a large part throughout, Dewar also doesn't hold back when illustrating the ubiquitousness of misogyny and violence towards women. Some of what's covered may be difficult to read for some, and Dewar certainly wouldn't be in the running for the Staunch Prize, but for me she handled things exceptionally well, making this reader pause and think both during and afterwards. Violence against women wasn't ignored by Dewar, instead it was portrayed and addressed in a nuanced and thoughtful way. It was done with meaning, and compassion and understanding towards the victims and their ongoing battles with healing and empowerment.

Overall, RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY was a highly enjoyable debut novel that's an eco-thriller with a lot of meaning and real-world thoughtfulness beyond 'in-book' high stakes or high action.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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