The Inferior by Peadar o Guilin
|The Inferior by Peadar o Guilin
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: Compelling, disturbing and utterly addictive, this is a very strong debut novel. Lots of complex ideas, but they never get in the way of the plot. Perhaps a few pages too long, but other than that, this one's a triumph.
|Date: September 2007
|Publisher: David Fickling Books
There is no food but flesh. There is no flesh but the tribes. There is but one law: eat or be eaten.
Not a future world you'd fancy living in? Me either. But it's the world Stopmouth lives in. To live, the few remaining humans must hunt one of the multitude of ever-changing other species, or organise a flesh-trade with a species with whom they have a treaty, or they must submit to the Flesh Council's decision about who is weakest, who has least to offer the tribe. It's considered an obscenity to be buried and an honour to "volunteer" once your useful days are over. To Stopmouth's tribe, giving your flesh to feed others is a sacred thing - we are the marrow of your bones, your flesh, your heart. High in the Roof of Stopmouth's world, bright globes pass over. Occasionally, they fight. And on the day Stopmouth narrowly escapes being caught by the Armourbacks, one of the globes explodes and a strange, beautiful woman falls from the sky. For Stopmouth, nothing will ever be the same again. There is so much about his world that he doesn't know. But in his journey to find out, he must defeat the Armourbacks, the Flyers, the Hoppers, and the horrific Diggers.
I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed The Inferior. The press sheet says it has echoes of Tarzan, Conan and the Truman Show - and yes, it does have echoes of them all, although perhaps more of Philip K Dick's Time Out of Joint than the Truman Show, which in essence derived from it. However, it felt more like a revisionist Lord of the Flies to me. Even then, despite its treading of familiar future catastrophe and man-as-beast paths, what really struck me about The Inferior was its freshness. It felt new, interesting, thoughtful, exciting. I believed utterly in Stopmouth, a savage maybe, but a hero to die for if you're a girl and to dream of being if you're a boy. In fact, the press sheet also quoted a reviewer saying The Inferior is "unashamedly masculine", but I didn't think it was at all. The female characters, in particular Indrani, the woman from the sky, and Stopmouth's mother Flamehair, are strong, worthwhile and interesting people.
ó Guilín jumps straight into his narrative - there's no messing about - and I was hooked from the very first chapter, in which Stopmouth is betrayed by his charismatic but ultimately flawed brother. From then on, I was rooting for the hero like there was no tomorrow and I was desperate to find out what happened next. There's a whole world here to be explained, but because the plot really is a mix of mystery thriller and picaresque, there's no tiresome world-building, no lengthy expositions - you simply see things as Stopmouth sees them, but as you follow him, you gradually pick up the little clues that he does not. It's brilliantly done. The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but enough is resolved to feel satisfied. I hate cliffhangers, but I wasn't annoyed by The Inferior at all. If I had one criticism to make, it would be about length. The Inferior is 450 pages long. In my (shorter) book, that's too many pages for anyone, let alone younger readers. We could have lost a species fight or two and been none the less impressed. I blame Jo Rowling for all these pages everywhere - if someone at Bloomsbury had got their red pen out on some Harry Potter volumes, then I think perhaps we'd have some tighter books being published. But really, this is just a nit pick. I like short, tight books, but I absolutely loved The Inferior. And I can't wait for the second in the trilogy.
My thanks to the nice people at David Fickling for sending the book. We also have a review of The Deserter by Peadar o Guilin.
The Inferior by Peadar o Guilin is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.
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