Girl, Fighter by Cyan Night is a coming of age story about Aliyah, an Australian expat residing and working in London from a mixed Kazakh-Chinese background. It is well paced and gripping, as the hero is soon led by her character and circumstances into a series of calamities almost reminiscent of Hellenist tragedy. It is in this tension between character and social context that the novel finds its strength; it is an honest examination of one person’s complex situation in its historical and predetermined nuance, but also manages to highlight its heroes agency. The novel is structured into two parts, the first (narrated in a detached third person voice) sets up the ascent necessary for the fall of the second, which is made more intimate by its adoption of the first person.
We see as Aliyah adapt to London life by taking up biking and Mixed Martial Arts to provide her with something beyond a lucrative career in computer programming. In this way, Night evokes a set of different, neatly compartmentalised worlds that Aliyah maintains, exploring the pressures of harassment at work, the trials of the sport Aliyah uses as an escape and the protagonist’s efforts to find a meaningful bond. In the cataclysmic moment of the novel, the boundaries between these domains are blurred and the experience of a loss of control—induced, in part, by brain injury—is conveyed with shocking fidelity.
The depth of research is as impressive as the immersive setting; Girl, Fighter covers extensive subject matter from psychology and neurobiology to MMA culture and the geography (even psychogeography) of London. The confidence with which Night writes, gives the world in which Aliyah is situated the impression of being larger than merely her solitary narrative. Likewise, the supporting characters demonstrate enough complexity to be convincing as people with their own stories. It is an important feature for a novel about someone who experiences the world, often justly, as something encroaching and threatening. Night’s novel has recently been published in the form of an e-book and I would recommend it to everyone.