Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier: Ghosts and Historical Sydney

Title: razorhurstRazorhurst

Author: Justine Larbalestier

Genre: YA historical/crime/paranormal

Length: 365 pages

Published by: Allen and Unwin

Source: received in exchange for review (thanks to my good pals at Allen and Unwin!)


The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.

When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .


I will start this review by saying that though this book isn’t really my thing, the writing, the detail and the vivid setting are unparalleled.

I’m not a big fan of paranormal in general. Or, for that matter, historical fiction. I got an unsolicited copy from the excellent Allen and Unwin, which I really appreciate, because I got to read this book. Yes, it may not be my cup of tea, but it introduced me to a type of book that I would never have read of my own volition.

So we have 1930s Sydney.

We have knife crime.

We have Kelpie and Dymphna.

We have ghosts.

I really liked the element of the ghosts, because it just adds another layer to the story. The only complaint I would have is that sometimes I couldn’t tell the difference between living people and dead people.

Dymphna and Kelpie are awesome characters. First of all, Dymphna…what an awesome name, right? Same with Kelpie. Precious little Kelpie. I just wanted to place a huge bowl of food in front of her several times throughout the novel. I think they’re such interesting characters to follow – Kelpie because she’s one of the MANY urchins who lived in Sydney during that time, and Dymphna because of the power she wields. Both main characters are well-crafted and strong in their own ways, and I quite enjoyed reading about them.

The writing was also excellent. Not MY kind of thing, you understand, since it was third person and weirdly impersonal, but really, really well-written. If that even makes sense. I could imagine everything so well, it was that detailed. Actually, I think the setting was one of the great strengths, and the writing style matched it really well. The research conducted in writing this novel is very, very obvious.

Honestly, this book took me a while to get through, because sometimes it IS a little dense (well, not quite the right word, but it’s not exactly a fast read). A large part of this was the POV, I think.

Still, even though the genre or writing style isn’t to my taste, it might be to yours! So many bloggers have raved about this book and you should see for yourself whether you like this dark portrait of historical Sydney.


Rating: 3/5 Wonderkitties


12 thoughts on “Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier: Ghosts and Historical Sydney

  1. Yup, I’m with you exactly. I think I ended up giving it a 3? It was fantastic…buuut…I had so much trouble getting engaged with it. Full marks for originality though, right?! I’ve NEVER read anything like it.

  2. Wow, much genres, very subjects. *cough* It sounds like my kind of historical – ie. 30s mob scene – but the blurb sounds too crowded for me. If I saw it in a bookshop, I probably wouldn’t pick it up, to be honest.

  3. Thanks for the lovely review, Emily! I have this sitting on my shelf, and I think I might begin to read it tonight. It definitely sounds like my type of book, so I may enjoy it more than you.

  4. I’ve seen this one go around and I can’t deny that it has piqued my interest so, so much. I just find it so disappointing that I can’t really get my hands on it yet because it’s only in Australia so far. Sad 😦

    Faye at The Social Potato

  5. Pingback: This Week: Much NaNoWriMo, Very School | The Loony Teen Writer

  6. I was quite excited for this, but I’ve read some reviews by other bloggers which say they didn’t enjoy it as much either so… yeah. I found out that my library have this as an ebook tonight though, so I think I’ll save it for my holiday (to Sydney!) and do a little Razorhurst-related sightseeing as well hah 😉

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