When everyone’s world changes irrevocably, sometimes the most striking things aren’t what have changed but what remain the same. Brendan Ritchie’s Eta Draconis explores a modern world where violent meteor showers have pelted the earth for almost a decade. We follow two sisters making the journey from the remote town of Esperance to university in Perth, during a time when travel of any type is considered risky at best.
Elora and Vivian are only four years apart but the rift between them is much more than their age. When the meteor showers began, their family, like many others, fled the city towards more remote living. Elora is now leaving the town in which she spent her adolescence and Vivienne is desperately trying to get back to the promised world that was ripped away from her right as she was approaching adulthood.
Eta Draconis is tangible and relatable in a way that feels very current whilst touching on the timeless subject of the human condition. Something about the way the entire world has changed, yet at times it is hard to feel its direct impact, is very relatable in a post-Covid world. For anyone who has made the journey from Esperance to Perth, the way the atmosphere and landscape are written is extraordinarily accurate, and the way each of the characters cope with the looming presence of the meteor showers is almost certainly mappable to people in your own life.
Ritchie’s writing is extremely grounded. Young adults are often written as the embodiment of angst or naivety, you will find none of that here. Familial rifts are also so often tied to neat character arcs: a journey for a character to discover and fix a personal flaw that neatly fixes everything; young adults are more complicated than this and family bonds are more complicated than this. While I enjoyed the atmosphere, premise, and worldbuilding I believe it is Ritchie’s character work that really shines. Sometimes as readers we grow to know and understand a character because we can relate them to similar archetypes in similar stories. This is not always a bad thing, I can’t say I know many honour-bound, sword wielding heroes in real life, but it isn’t until reading character work like Ritchie’s that you realise the difference between a character built out of the literary canon and recognising a character out of the people in your life.
While each character deals with Draconis in their own way, there is a common theme of defiance in the face of events bigger than us. Some people openly mock this, taunting it to do its worst. Others stubbornly continue their life trying their best to ignore it, and some fight to claim a life for themselves in spite of it. Ritchie doesn’t favour one approach over the other and instead highlights all the ways we as humans show resilience, and while we may be deterred, scared, or encumbered one thing is never in question. Life goes on.
Eta Draconis is an easy read tackling complex issues. It is entertaining, thought provoking and relevant. After finishing it I immediately knew a few people I wanted to hand it to because I thought it would be the perfect book, to catch them at the perfect time, with its messages of defiance, perseverance, and hope in the face of events outside your control. If any of the themes mentioned in this review appeal to you at all, I urge you to pick up this book.
Eta Draconis is available online now at UWA Publishing: https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/eta-draconis.