Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Small-Minded Giants by Oisin McGann

2007 edition, Corgi Children's
368 pages, Paperback
Review copy

Children's 12+ Thriller

Cushions: 4
Daggers: 4 (death, violence, peril)
Paperclips: 1
Smiles: 1
Tissues: 2
Yunaleska's recommended rating: ♥♥♥♥

Beyond the huge domed roof of Ash Harbour, a city built inside a hollowed-out mountain, deadly storms and Arctic temperatures have stripped the Earth bare. Resources are limited and access to power is all-important. Sinister bodies reign supreme, undercover operations are rife and every move is monitored by the Clockworkers and Dark-Day Fatalists. When sixteen-year-old Sol Wheat’s father goes missing and is accused of murder, Sol sets out to find out why, and in doing so uncovers the harsh reality behind Ash Harbour.

Apocalyptic thrillers rate highly on my reading radar. There's something about watching how people adapt to survive in a harsh environment that makes a pleasant read. I would hate to be in the situation where Sol is, trapped in the confines of Ash Harbour forever because the world outside is inhabitable. It's bad enough being snowbound for a day (or more) in the house. It isn't surprising that people in Ash Harbour turn to illegal forms of entertainment (drugs, mostly). A lot don't appear to have much hope of ever getting outside. Sol knew what his friends did, and he knows that some areas are out of bounds. What he doesn't know is just how quickly he'll become apart of the shadier side of Ash Harbour.

One of the many highlights of this action packed story with plot twists at almost every page, is the enormity of imagination used. I love the idea of how people have to travel in a certain direction to keep gyroscopes beneath the city working. This in turn provides power for everything. If they stop - well the city stops. Quite a dangerous prospect in an already harsh world. Everyone's life evolves around moving. School timetables change so that there's always some people at school on weekends (and also at work), so the city isn't in danger of stopping. Well...that's until Sol gets pulled into the darker depths of Ash Harbour. Because then he learns the truth: how closely monitored they all are. How those in charge, the Clockworkers will do anything to keep the city working - even if it costs lives. After all, most people's lives are expendable - especially those in areas which don't see sunlight.

I really could go on about all the clever details of Ash Harbour's workings - but then that would spoil the surprises in the story. I grew quite attached to Sol, who has a fair amount of people working against him. His dad disappears, he gets attacked as he's sneaking back home (turns out they weren't thieves). He does get help from a mysterious stranger, but that help still leads him to a life-threatening adventure, involving the Dark-Day Fatalists, the Clockworkers, killers in the underworld, debt-collectors, dangling from heights...and so forth. His brush with the darker side of humanity changes him, but I like how those changes are explored (a little like the changes to Will in The Returners)

There are other characters whose viewpoint gets examined. Sol's classmate Cleo (short for Cleopatra) is a singer. Unfortunately her band's lyrics prove a bit too controversial for the authorities, so they get banned from performing at a gig. Just because they are expressing their opinion on life in Ash Harbour. Cleo's life becomes entwined with Sol's: she already dealt with the underworld due to her drug habit (it's not a major one, but it is present in the story), but there are shadier characters than the drug dealers. I like her relation with her sister, and how even when her own life is at risk she does all she can to keep her sister safe. There's a certain point in the story which has her making a difficult decision. In reality I believe she made the right choice, although the consequences will haunt her forever.

I really liked seeing the story from Sol's teacher's point of view. Ana, being an adult, looks at life a little differently to the teenagers. She cares about them and is willing to stand up to the police for Sol. I'm glad that she looks out for him, and saves him (a few times) from corrupt officers. Having someone like her in the story supporting the main protagonists emphasizes how much danger Sol and Cleo are in: yes, Ana helps Sol out a little with the police, but compared to the other dangers that Sol comes up against, the police begin to look as innocent as fluffy rabbits.

Liked this? Try Gone and Hunger by Michael Grant.

1 comment:

Becky said...

I have this book on my reading pile. I loved Gone so hopefully I'll enjoy this. Your review was very encouraging.