Cape of Storms, the remarkable debut novel from Bianca Bowers, is a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of South Africa’s social transformation from apartheid regime to Rainbow Nation democracy.

Rosalinde Wright grows up in 1980s South Africa and is appalled at the segregation she encounters. However, as she matures, and crime takes hold in the post-apartheid, newly democratic country, she learns that there is more nuance to the political situation than she would have expected.

Although she still abhors the racism of her close relatives, she comes to understand that those whose views she opposes may have a more complicated relationship with race relations than the monochromatic one she originally assumed. While Ros never grants credence to these opinions, despite their subtleties and her own experiences, the horrors of the ubiquitous crime that tears the inchoate democracy apart would seem to add weight to them. If there is a tragic aspect to this novel, this is it. One example of such nuance can be seen in Rosalinde’s acquisition of a gun for the purposes of self-defence; this too has consequences that extend far beyond intention.

The beauty of South Africa’s landscape is captured throughout, the dry heat of the veld palpable. Evocative descriptions permeate the narrative to convey the environment, weather and place with an immediacy that consistently impresses. All the while, Rosalinde challenges assumptions – including her own – related to climate more political in nature.

A riveting and passionate love triangle flips the virgin-whore trope, when a bookish and rational Alistair vies for Ros’s affections with the ultra-violent and socially rebellious Mark. The novel’s culmination features plenty of action, as Rosalinde is forced to act, and faces some stark choices related to her future.

Cape of Storms by Bianca Bowers is out now.