Razorhurst, a gritty YA historical fantasy by Justine Larbalestier, is set over a 24-hour period in the blood-stained streets of Sydney, 1932. The peace between two crime bosses – Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson – is on the brink of collapse.
Dymphna, Gloriana’s ‘best girl’, is nicknamed the ‘Angel of Death’ for good reason.
Kelpie, a street kid, has relied on ghosts to make it through each day, but that doesn’t mean all ghosts can be trusted. She trusts the living even less, constantly in fear of being shipped off to welfare.
When a ghost leads Kelpie straight into a murder scene, her fate becomes entwined with that of Dymphna. With the freshly-deceased Jimmy Palmer haunting Kelpie, both helping and hindering her, Kelpie and Gloriana are forced to run, and must rely on each other to stay alive.
The setting of Razorhurst is unforgiving and unrelenting, with vivid descriptions of poverty endured by the hapless inhabitants, and of the brutal murders.
The fantasy elements of the ghosts compliments the historical elements of Kings Cross, as minor characters offer insight into the plight and demise of the lower-class, while threatening to suffocate the protagonists with their presence.
The emotionally restrained way in which Larbalestier describes death encapsulates the futility and tragedy of each demise, and the pointlessness of murder. That is not to say there aren’t moments of tenderness — ‘Neal Darcy’s Typewriter’ is a poignant chapter.
Almost everything and everyone is working against Dymphna and Kelpie, but both young women are driven by a dogged determination to survive. The resilience of these women drives the story and makes for a fast-paced, compelling read.