Nightpeople is a dystopic fantasy novel set thousands of years in the future. Thirteen-year-old Saria lives in a remote valley with her carer, Ma Lee. The valley is in a quarantined and walled expanse of outback desert called the Darklands, which were contaminated generations previously by an accident in a nuclear waste facility (an event only hinted at until late in the novel). In this land, few children are born without deformities and survive, and consequently the people of the Darklands are dying out. When births of ‘clean’ babies do occur, the mysterious Nightpeople descend from the sky and spirit them away.
When Saria was born, the Nightpeople were led to believe she was stillborn and her body was cremated. Instead, with the collusion of her mother, Jani, Saria was taken by the mysterious Dariand (a nightwalker) to be raised in hiding by Ma Lee. Now, after thirteen years, Dariand has returned to take her to the town of Woormra to be presented to the Council of Dreamers by the powerful Dreamer Wanji. The Dreamers are a special group of male elders who possess ‘landsense’ and the power to ‘reach’ into the minds of animals and to listen to the land itself. It is the belief of Dariand’s colleague, Dreamer Gaardi, that Saria is special and he tells her that ‘You’re gonna do and see things that the rest of us poor bastards never dreamed about. You’re going to know big secrets.’ Indeed, there have been no further children born in the Darklands since Saria.
The novel can be divided into five main parts:
The prologue recounting Saria’s birth and hiding.
Chapters 1 to 15: Leaving the valley and Saria’s journey to Woormra with Dariand and Dreamer Gaardi. During this journey, they must hide from patrols of Nightpeople and Saria must decide whether Dariand and Gaardi can be trusted. After wandering off into the desert by herself, she is captured and taken to the town of Olympic by Dreamer Baanti, a rival of Dreamer Wanji. He also realises the girl’s importance and she is kept bound and imprisoned in a hole.
Chapters 16 to 26: After being rescued, Saria arrives in Woormra and is presented to Dreamer Wanji and the Council of Dreamers. Here, she learns much more about the history of the Darklanders, the reasons she is special, and more about how to extend and control her powers. Saria also learns a great deal from the women of Woormra, and realises that there are matters of which Dreamer Wanji seems unaware or is hiding. Then, rivalry between the people from Olympic and Woormra take a turn for the worse. After witnessing Dreamer Wanji’s death and believing Dariand to be dead also, Saria must escape.
Chapter 27 to 32: The final part of the book tells of Saria’s escape from Woormra. Since her time in the valley, Saria has been hearing a mysterious voice calling her from far away. She has reached the conclusion that it is Jani, her mother, calling her from beyond the Darklands. Consequently, she decides to journey to the Darkedge, the boundary of the Darklands. On this dangerous journey, she comes across the Shifting House, the infamous centre of the cataclysm that destroyed the old world and where she learns more about the nature of the threatening Nightpeople. Then, after a surprising re-union, Saria continues her journey nightward and towards her destiny…
A brief epilogue leaves the reader with a sense of completion, but also a bridge to the next volume in the series.