Stopmouth and his family know of no other life than the daily battle to survive. To live they must hunt rival species, or negotiate flesh trade with those who crave meat of the freshest human kind.
It is a savage, desperate existence. And for Stopmouth, considered slow-witted hunt-fodder by his tribe, the future looks especially bleak. But then, on the day he is callously betrayed by his brother, a strange and beautiful woman falls from the sky.
It is a moment that will change his destiny, and that of all humanity, forever.
Brought up in a technology-free world where the only law is eat or be eaten, Stopmouth belongs to a small tribe of humans that faces a daily battle for survival against alien creatures. Ridiculed for his stutter and regarded as an idiot by his tribe, Stopmouth is cursed with compassion and almost dies when he ignores the tribal rule of ‘don’t stop, don’t die’ to bravely rescue his popular brother, Wallbreaker, from an ambush by creatures known as Armourbacks. Stopmouth’s heroic actions are for nothing though, when Wallbreaker takes credit for his kills.
The resentment that this creates between the brothers is accentuated when a beautiful woman literally falls from the sky into their world. Unable to speak the tribe’s language Indrani is a fierce fighter who refuses to eat the flesh that all need to survive and shuns all in the tribe. However she and Stopmouth become close when she nurses him back to health from injuries that should have seen him traded to the other creatures as fresh meat. Their tentative friendship incurs Wallbreaker’s jealousy - he wants Indrani as a second wife and is also ambitious to become the tribe’s new chief.
Caught between loyalty to his brother and his growing feelings for Indrani, Stopmouth soon begins to make discoveries about his world, and Indrani’s – discoveries that will change not only his life, but also the life of his tribe forever.
Ó Guilín’s stunning debut novel combines cannibalism, stone age society, aliens, space craft and even The Truman Show to incredible effect. The central character is easy to empathise with – Stopmouth has to overcome his own deficiencies, the attitude of his tribe and even the attitude of Indrani to secure what he wants. Indrani is a colder character and it’s only as her story slowly unfolds that the reader understands reactions that initially make her unpleasant.
Some particularly dark subjects are alluded to (if not shown explicitly on the page) – including rape and the death of children. It’s not your typical YA novel and some may be put off by the uncompromising subject matter. However, the world building is superb and the story gripping – boys in particular should enjoy the action and adventure and also the quest element that takes up the last quarter of the book. Given the staleness of YA fiction sometimes, this novel is a breath of fresh air and worth checking out.
A dark, stunning YA novel that adults will also enjoy, the combination of cannibalism, hunter gatherer societies, aliens and space craft make for an engrossing read with plenty of action adventure that boys in particularly should enjoy. Don’t let the subject matter put you off because Ó Guilín’s original story is told with surprising sensitivity and never feels lurid or cheap.
Cross-posted to cool_teen_reads and yalitlovers.