Review - Prisoncorp

***Warning: spoilers ahead!***

I’m delighted to bring you a review of the newly-released Prisoncorp by Marlee Jane Ward (published by Seizure/Brio Books, April 2019), which follows on from Ward’s dystopian YA novellas, Welcome to Orphancorp and Psynode. Many thanks to Seizure for sending me an unedited reading copy in advance!

Prisoncorp is the gripping finale in Mirii’s escape from oppressive corporations. In this instalment, Mirii has found herself imprisoned – for real this time – and must survive the hell that is ‘Corrections Co’, a women’s facility in the searing desert.

It’s a grim day-to-day existence cleaning out ‘crappers’ and collecting dead bodies – but the company of friends makes it (just) bearable. True friendship is a key theme in Prisoncorp, with important characters reappearing in Mirii’s world, including Rowe, Lacey, Cam, Sticks, Vu, and Freya (though she’s more of a frenemy).

“I feel Lacey slip an arm around me, then Rowe too, and we stand there, watching the make-believe clouds empty over the farms until the sky goes dark.”

Against a bloody backdrop, the novella is layered with moments of intimacy and beauty. Mirii is as vivacious as ever, sparring with the guards and befriending the toughest women in the prison. However, a shocking surprise awaits Mirii when she spots the newest member of the guard: it’s Vu. Her Vu.

When I encountered this plot twist, I thought for sure that Vu was brainwashed by Psynode scientists and had turned evil! Erm, not quite. Once Vu reveals her disguise, the lovers share an electric (secret) rendezvous, and the page crackles with the intensity of their feelings.

“It’s like the words spark off something huge in us and we careen into each other, the world receding more and more with every kiss and bite and sharp breath.” 

 As I’d hoped, Prisoncorp gave me a richer insight into the depth of Mirii and Vu’s relationship. I really felt the absence of Vu’s voice and perspective in Psynode, so to have her back in the flesh was thrilling.

In Prisoncorp, Mirii and Vu’s ‘insta-love’ feels justified. It’s their escape route: the pathway to a life away from the horrors they’ve known. For Mirii in particular, I think her feelings for Vu keep her grounded and well, sane, as she battles with flashbacks and post-traumatic stress.

 “This is not the time for any kind of PTSD spiral, not now, not now. Look at her, look at Vu. She’s here, right now, she’s real.”

The ethics of sacrifice and war are important themes in the story. When the men’s side of the prison stage a coup, trouble also stirs on the women’s side, led by the powerful San. Yet the rebellion quickly spirals out of control, with prisoners wanting to inflict cruelty upon their oppressors.

For me, these war-like scenes raise questions about right and wrong, good and evil. Are we all capable of physical and psychological cruelty, if pushed to our limits? Does prolonged suffering cause people to lose some of their humanity?

Mirii isn’t perfect, but she certainly doesn’t lose her fierce loyalty to her friends, and her determination to protect them at all costs. Nor does Vu lose her soft gentleness and warmth. Perhaps it’s their love that protects them from becoming self-serving, like Freya. (Though I think Freya is a fascinating, flawed character.)

Issues of identity and severed connection to culture are interwoven throughout all three novellas. Mirii’s Aboriginality is first mentioned in Welcome to Orphancorp, when she explains the meaning of her name in Gamilaraay (‘shooting star’). Sadly, that’s about the extent of Mirii’s knowledge about her ancestry.

In Prisoncorp, a fellow inmate recognises Mirii’s Aboriginality and explains that Aboriginal people are overrepresented in the prisons. This is not a projection of a dystopian future: it’s a chilling picture of the present.

“There are a lot of us here, from all nations. ‘Cause it’s a crime to be Koori in our own bloody country!” – Tarni

Australia’s cruel treatment of refugees is also explored in the story, when a group of women are brought into Corrections Co from an immigration camp. Again, this is an uncomfortable truth about our modern-day immigration policies in this country: that we demonise refugees as criminals and terrorists.

 “I feel a hot, sinking sorrow for them, and a deep shame, that this is the best we can give. A spot in the yard, and labour in the camp.” – Mirii

While many aspects of Prisoncorp are bleak, it does have a hopeful ending! The final chapter catapults us a year into the future, and I found it quite cathartic. Overall, Prisoncorp is a fantastic conclusion to Marlee Jane Ward’s award-winning stories. If dystopian/sci-fi punk YA is your thing, I highly recommend this trilogy.