Monday 30 May 2022


Xenoflight by Nean McKenzie (Midnight Sun) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780987226518

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What would you do if you found yourself abandoned in mysterious circumstances, your beloved pet threatened by poachers and uncertain who - if anyone - you can trust? 13-year-old Nessa Santiago finds herself in exactly that situation, lost for next steps as her enemy closes in on her home near the Great Ocean Road.

A contemporary fantasy, Xenoflight tracks Nessa’s journey, physical and emotional, trying to find her aunt while hiding from an organisation secretly creating a hunting park for erstwhile-mythical ‘cryptids’.  While trying to protect her pet flying ferret, Fernando, she joins classmate Kep in trying to find help.  On the way, Nessa is forced to confront the hidden truth about her father and the flying dinosaur-esque creature that seems to be stalking her.

This is the second stand-alone book in a collection based in the same alternate universe where cryptids roam the Earth, following 2019’s Cryptosight.  While the characters and plot are theoretically separate, readers would probably benefit from having the world-building background from the first instalment.

The story is intriguing but quite complex, with various plot layers interwoven with several political themes including animal rights, immigration, and media manipulation.  Familiarity with the world would help parse these strands from the outset.  In the end, though, the story’s main thrust focuses on the importance of questioning assumptions and looking behind first impressions.

It takes a little while for the dialogue, plot, and characters to feel settled, but before long this becomes a page-turner that will appeal to thoughtful 9-to-13-year-olds who wonder if there just might be something else out there.

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