Saturday, February 02, 2008

Review: The Inferior by Peadar Ó Guilín

Marketed in places as YA and others as science fiction, Peadar Ó Guilín’s debut novel, The Inferior, defies easy categorization. By the end of the novel we can firmly place it in the realm of science fiction, but elements early on lend an equally ‘fantastic’ feel. Plot-wise and thematically, The Inferior reads like a YA that crosses over well into an adult audience – though I’d suggest is should be a mature YA audience with things like cannibalism and rape occurring.

Stopmouth exists in the shadow of his older brother – a brilliant hunter and strategist with ambitions of one day becoming chief. Handicapped by a stutter and the resulting lack of confidence, Stopmouth simply strives to stay alive and useful to his tribe in the bitter world they live in – a post-apocalyptic shell of a world with only poisonous plants forces sentient species to hunt each other’s flesh for food. Times grow harder when two rival species inexplicably learn how to communicate with each other, coordinating their efforts to gain flesh. At the same time one of the mysterious ‘orbs’ from the roof (sky) crashes, and with it a human like none of the tribe has ever seen.

This is a coming-of-age story – our young hero overcomes personal limitations and excels. In this respect the story does little that surprises, though the character growth of Stopmouth satisfies with in the context of the story.

Thematic elements challenge the idea of inferiority (as the title itself implies) throughout the book. Stopmouth continually faces those that feel he is inferior, while harboring his thoughts of superiority over others. Nearly every interaction between humans (and the other sentient species) comes back to this concept. This YA thematic approach is neither too simplistic nor obvious to alienate the more mature reader.

Ó Guilín excels with the presentation of his world – a Darwinian nightmare where a variety of sentient species battle for survival and dinner. The horrors of this harsh world truly come alive his utilization of third-person perspective from the point of view of Stopmouth. Ó Guilín must have had a load of fun dreaming up different species, their characteristics and various ways to eat each other.

The biggest failing of The Inferior is the lack of a coherent direction. There is no single antagonist spanning the novel and only a vague goal that abruptly changes focus. This might have been an attempt at some amount of ‘realism’ or a product of this being the introductory book of a trilogy, but at times the plot seems to just ramble on.

The Inferior kicks off The Bone World trilogy – annoyingly, there is no mention anywhere on the book itself that I could find that indicates this book is the first of a trilogy. That being said, I think that this could be read as a satisfying stand-alone if you can accept open-ended endings. A lot of questions remain, but in terms of character development, the end is well placed (of course I do look forward to seeing what happens later).

The Inferior is a solid debut that should appeal to both a mature YA and an adult audience. I look forward to seeing where Ó Guilín takes us with The Deserter later this year. 7/10

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