The Inferior by Peadar O Guilin
Published by Random House / David Fickling Books, September 2007 (UK); June 2008 (US)
ISBN: 9780385610957 (UK) and 9780385751452 (US)
Review copy received.
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Here’s a dilemma – how do you write a Young Adult (YA) novel – usually no bad language, no sex – but write about apocalyptic events and a society where cannibalism is a survival norm? Well, it doesn’t sound easy, but to his credit Peadar O Guilin has managed to do so, and create a pretty good book as a result.
Stopmouth is a member of The Tribe. Surviving at a subsistence level, Stopmouth and his brother Wallbreaker survive through hunting Armourbacks and fighting other tribes such as the Bloodskin tribe. Saving Wallbreaker from an Armourback attack, Stopmouth is then betrayed by his brother. The first part of the book deals with their difficult and complicated survival, following the motto Don’t stop, don’t die. Stopmouth has to deal with the difficulties of their relationship, growing up, and his unrequited love for his brother’s wife Mossheart.
However, the discovery of Indrani, an outsider, creates a part of the plot that turns the situation on its head. The consequential revelations mean that Stopmouth’s world, as he sees it, is forever altered.
This was, for me, a surprisingly well written book. The world building is pleasingly subtle with Armourbacks, Diggers, Flyers and Hoppers making life impressively difficult in this landscape. More importantly, the setting allows Peadar to examine roles of gender and society and the importance of technology in a primitive society. Whilst dealing with many of the tropes of YA novels – familial relationships, societal relationships, the physical and emotional growth of young people into adults – there is nothing particularly new there. Nevertheless it is because of Peadar’s skills as a writer that, despite the difficulties in writing about the issues and ethics involved, his characters are suitably unusual enough to keep the reader turning the pages. and there’s enough going on plot-wise to keep events rolling along. Sex is implied without detail; the unpleasant parts of such a difficult lifestyle are given rationality and intimacy, yet not embellished in gross detail.
As with most YA novels, its protagonists endure a rite of passage which is resolved to a major degree by the end of the novel. Far from being The Inferior, by the end of the book Stopmouth is a definite hero. It’s not exactly a happy ending, yet it is one where readers can go away from feeling fairly satisfied, not to mention wanting to read the next in the series (currently due later in 2008.)
This book shows why Young Adult books are currently pushing the genre within their obvious constraints and, as such, this deserves to be wider read. Dark, yet not too gritty, this one is refreshingly different and simultaneously sufficiently entertaining for teenagers and above. Welcome to the Tribe.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, June 2008
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