Cassandra, by Kathryn Gossow: Shortlisted for Best Fantasy Novel 2017 in Aurealis Awards

Shortlisted for the Best Fantasy Novel 2017 in the Australian Aurealis Awards.

She dreams of plane crashes, earthquakes, tsunamis, bloody coups. She dreams of the stallion sweeping down the hill … . P. 197

Foreboding. Everything in the early chapters of Cassandra author Kathryn Gossow instills a sense of ‘foreboding’. Possibilities thicken of dark changes to come. Would they concern Paulo, or Athena, or a secret in this family? Or would they thunder down on Cassie herself like the ominous horse in her nightmares?

Cassandra: A princess of Troy and priestess of Apollo. She was cursed to utter true prophecies but to never be believed. (Wiki)

What if you could foresee people’s futures, for instance, that one kid on the school bus will die of bowel cancer, another will briefly shine on the stage but never become famous? A wonderful ability, yes? But what if you fill with dread and cannot make out why. Then Something happens. If you had warned people, and if they had believed you, could you have diverted that accident or mistake from happening? In the old legend, of course, Cassie’s namesake Cassandra felt cursed.

The Snake: Some versions of the legend have Cassandra falling asleep in a temple, where the snakes licked her ears so that she could hear the future. (Wiki.)

Cassie seems like an ordinary girl who gets bitten by a snake on a farm in Queensland. Her little brother predicts a drought, she grows to be a grumpy teenager troubled by visions, she scowls at her mother in the ordinary teenage way, she worries about her great-aunt and her Poppy .. Wait a minute. Bitten by a snake? Visions? Her brother foretells a drought? Wasn’t there a legend …?

The Brother: Some versions of the legend give Cassandra a brother, Helenus. Like her, he was always correct in his predictions. Unlike her, he was believed. (Wiki.)

She tries to make one true friend, Athena, who introduces her to the Tarot. (‘Her thoughts swirl with colour and the patterns and the meanings of the cards’. P. 77). She clumsily attempts to fit in with the cool kids, she experiments with alcohol and dope, her visions worsen, she is keen on a boy named Paulo .. Wait, wait. Athena? ‘Paulo’ .. or ‘Apollo’? Didn’t Apollo’s priestesses take hallucinogens to enhance their visions?

Apollo: Many versions of the myth relate that Cassandra incurred the god Apollo’s wrath by refusing him sex, after promising herself to him in exchange for the power of prophecy. (Wiki.)

Cassandra can be read is a ‘coming of age’ novel in that it concerns teenage insecurities and self-doubts, the cruel cut and thrust of cliques and friendships, and the tensions within families. But I think you will also soon be reading it, as I did, mindful of the big questions about fate and destiny, and mulling over the extent to which every one of one’s own decisions cuts away previous possibilities and opens up lines of new ones.

Kathryn Gossow is also the author of The Dark Poet. An older Cassie, the central character of Cassandra features in the stories in The Dark Poet. As you can see from my review in this blog, the connection is intriguing. The Dark Poet is also published by Odyssey Books.

(The images of the book in this post are courtesy of Odyssey Books and the author.)

Mark, your reviewer here at Baffled Bear Books, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

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