TO THE HIGHLANDS JON DOUST, FREMANTLE PRESS, $27.99
Venero Armanno was born in Brisbane but his Sicilian parents came from the foot of Mt Etna and the volcano has featured more than once in his novels. Not that this should imply repetition. Black Mountain, his 10th adult novel, is his first speculative fiction. It is well rooted, however, in both reality and locality, incorporating harrowing descriptions of the lives of Sicilian sulphur miners and particularly the enslavement of young orphans. Cesare Montenero (literally “black mountain”) is crippled and sees weaker boys killed by the work and the brutality of drunken masters.
Cesare is given his name by the young scion of hated local powerbrokers, a man who saves his life in dramatic circumstances and then introduces him to a life of cultivation, both literal and figurative, that is the antithesis of everything the boy has