Review: South of Darkness by John Marsden

Title: South of Darkness

Author: John Marsden

Published: Pan Macmillan AU November 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from November 19 to 21, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

John Marsden is best known for ‘The Tomorrow Series’ though he has written and published at least a dozen more middle grade to young adult novels as well as a handful of non fiction works.

“Having been asked by the Rvd Mr Johnson to jot down a few notes about my upbringing and the manner of my arrival in the colony, I will attempt to do so, but I should say at the outset that I have little of interest to relate. I have not contributed much worth to the world, as will no doubt become obvious in the pages that follow…”

South of Darkness is Marsden’s first novel for adults and features a young man by the name of Barnaby Fletch. It begins in late 18th century London where Fletch is struggling to survive on the streets of ‘Hell’. Orphaned at the tender age of 5, or thereabouts, he sleeps under bridges, thieving food to survive, his only friend another street rat named Austin. Though he is a recipient of some kindness by a church priest and later a family who fishes him half drowned out of the Thames, Barnaby is a hapless sort of fellow who often finds himself in dire straits and on one occasion, aged about 12, he sees no way out of a terrible situation other than to get himself transported to New South Wales to start a new life in the land that promises space and sunshine.

I have to be honest and admit that though I enjoyed Barnaby’s adventures, my experience of the narrative was not unlike that of reading an extended account from a school textbook as part of a history lesson. South of Darkness is related in the first person past tense by the aforementioned Barnaby Fletch, with not much in the way of dialogue and a tendency to tell rather than show.

I have no doubt that the historical details of Barnaby’s experiences are authentic, though his life is fictional. Marsden deftly evokes the grim streets of London, the bobbing transport ship, and the landscape of the fledgling Australian colony. I’m fairly familiar with the experiences of British convicts from an obsession with the era when I was in my mid teens but Barnaby’s interactions with the Australian ‘Indians’ (indigenous) are not something I had read about before.

South of Darkness is a tale of survival, adventure, fortitude and hope. Though I feel it lacks some excitement it is still a fascinating account of the era and a young boys life. I assume there will be more to come from Marsden as the end of South of Darkness leaves room for a continuation of Barnaby Fletch’s tale through adolescence and beyond.


Available to purchase from

Pan Macmillan AU Iboomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Bookworld I via Booko

Amazon AU  I Amazon US

and all good bookstores.


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