Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
In the world of this book, Humans, Hairbeasts, Armourbacks, Clawfolk, Diggers, Fourleggers, Flyers, Hoppers and whatever other species Guilin has conjured up are in a war of each against all, a war of eat or be eaten. The small Tribe of Humans routinely ask for Volunteers to be sacrificed as food to one of the other species in even exchange for food offerings from the other side; it is considered shameful to refuse or protestwho would seek to preserve his own life at a cost of food for the Tribe? Stopmouth, the stuttering younger brother of the daring and clever Wallbreaker, comes into painful conflict with his once beloved brother when he becomes the victim of his brother's secret cowardice and falls in love with both of his brother's wives, one of whom has fallen to Earth from a Globe in the sky, home of a vanished way of life not sustained by endless slaughter and cannibalism. At 438 pages, the book would have benefited by pruning at least 100 pages full of battles, and more battles, and eagerly devoured eyeballs. The open ending suggests that a sequel is planned with more battles, mutilated corpses, "sticky and delicious blood" and eyeball gouging. But readers with a taste for this sort of thing will also find provocative and disturbing questions about our own carnivorous practices. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
VOYA - Amy Luedtke
Life is a brutal struggle for the young hunter Stopmouth in this intense and thought-provoking adventure. Ruled by the law of "Eat or be Eaten," Stopmouth's Tribe must kill and consume the rival species that inhabit their post-apocalyptic world. When hunting fails, sacrificial "volunteers" are exchanged with other species. Considered weak because of his stutter, Stopmouth faces becoming a volunteer but is protected by his older brother, Wallbreaker. Despite the savagery and danger, Stopmouth finds meaning in living honorably for the Tribe. But Stopmouth's world is shattered when Wallbreaker takes credit for the success of Stopmouth's hunt and uses his new reputation to become Chief. Stopmouth faces more upheaval when one of the mechanical globes that hover in the sky crashes. From the wreckage emerges Indrani, a strange, fierce, and beautiful woman who finds the Tribe's flesh-eating repulsive. Eventually Stopmouth and Indrani form a close bond, and he learns she is hiding a devastating secret that could hold the key to the Tribe's survival. When Stopmouth and Indrani are exiled by Wallbreaker, they embark on a perilous journey to Indrani's world to save both Indrani and the Tribe. Compelling and exciting, this novel draws readers into Stopmouth's world and makes them consider how far they would go for survival. The numerous action scenes do get tiresome and the lack of resolution is frustrating, but the tale is perfect for readers who crave a adventure with a dash of philosophy. Reviewer: Amy Luedtke
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
In this epic story of survival, betrayal, and community, the fittest humans are prized as hunters and for taking care of the Tribe, while those with a number of marks on their Tally sticks, or otherwise deemed useless, are traded for food with other tribes in the region. Stopmouth, a "savage" human with a stutter, is healed by a strange visitor from the Roof following a hunting accident. He and Indrani develop a bond that is scorned by the rest of the Tribe, but is one that will see them through some challenging times as they set out on a journey to try to return Indrani to whence she came. This well-paced fantasy/science fiction blend perfectly introduces community conflict at a base level. Stopmouth and his brother are constantly at odds over their roles in the family and their individual ambition. Power and influence are accepted and controlled in very different ways by these main characters and, from the very first chapters, readers can see that lies and deceit are strong forces on the characters. There are numerous situations that could be used to supplement classroom discussion on moral and ethical behavior. Easy to follow and intriguing at every turn, The Inferior will hold readers from page to page, chapter to chapter, to the very end.-Dylan Thomarie, Johnstown High School, NY
Though most of the blood and horror in this turgid dystopian romance stays between the lines, there's still enough seeping out to disturb all but the most hardened readers. Into the young hunter Stopmouth's world, in which humans and intelligent beasts survive by butchering and eating one another indiscriminately, falls Indrani-a beautiful stranger from the vegetarian, high-tech civilization living in the glowing Roof overhead. Stopmouth is an archetypal Innocent Hero who, thanks to Indrani's efforts to hide the truth, takes hundreds of pages to learn that he and all the groundlings are modified animals deliberately set against each other for the entertainment of the Roof people-a gory, world-sized version of Survivor. The action scenes are compelling, but so stingy is the author with background information or physical descriptions that the premise and setting (a huge cave? a space colony? a "generation" ship?) are likely to be totally enigmatic to young readers. In the end the lovers are parted, and wasplike Diggers who plant their teeming young in living victims arrive on the scene-sure signs of an equally icky sequel. No rush. (Science fiction. 13 & up)
Read an Excerpt
The rule was to keep running – Don’t stop, don’t die. The Tribe needed its strongest to survive. So Stopmouth fled for his life through the streets of Hairbeast territory, while its non-human inhabitants looked on with indifference. Already the cries of his brother were fading behind him.
The Armourbacks preferred living prey. When they caught Wallbreaker, they’d drive him home with spears to feed their young. The screams of such captives lasted for days, echoing down streets and over rooftops.
Stopmouth tried not to think about it. ‘K-keep running,’ he told himself. He leaped barrels of flesh and sprinted into an alley narrow enough to give the pursuers some trouble if they were still on his tail.
Stopmouth realized he couldn’t hear his brother any more. He skidded to a halt. The hot air of mid-afternoon stank of blood and rang with the booming howls of fighting or mating Hairbeasts. He could feel his heart battering against his ribs and he leaned his tall frame for support against a crumbling wall. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Keep running. He wiped his stinging eyes and whispered the name, ‘Wallbreaker.’ Humanity might survive without his brother, but Stopmouth knew he could not. Wallbreaker had always been the darling of the Tribe. He’d been a sweet child, grown up to be a great hunter, and people would forgive him anything, even a half-idiot brother. And they had forgiven always, smiling indulgently through the younger boy’s stammers in order to please his handsome sibling.
And yet, if Wallbreaker failed to make it back, Mossheart would have to marry somebody else and that would mean . . . Stopmouth pushed the thought away with a shiver of self-disgust. He forced himself to turn round. He tried to spot his brother, but crowds of burly Hairbeasts blocked his way. The creatures filled the market place with the sharp stink of their fur. They bartered for flesh in high gabbling voices and sometimes the larger males would push against each other, chest to chest, until one gave way.
He shoved sweaty brown hair out of his eyes and marched back the way he’d come. The councillors would be angry if they knew what he was doing. ‘Suicide!’ they’d cry. ‘Waste!’ He didn’t even have a spear to defend himself, having abandoned it in his flight.
He reached the last place he’d heard his brother’s voice: an alley flanked by tall buildings where light from the great Roof struggled to penetrate. He found some traces of blood here, but they were old. Stopmouth tiptoed to the far end, his muscles trembling with exhaustion, his body and loincloth dripping with sweat. Here at last he heard the tones of human speech: a whimpering, pleading voice so unlike that of the great hunter Wallbreaker was becoming.
This can’t be my brother, Stopmouth thought.
The alley opened onto a small square, where incomprehensible murals covered the walls with swirls of dried blood. A few Hairbeasts watched curiously as Wallbreaker, his fair hair streaked with filth, retreated before the spears of the Armourbacks. He made no effort to take one of his attackers into death with him. Instead, tears flowed freely down his handsome face, shaming him and his family.
Even as his heart swelled with pity, Stopmouth began having second thoughts about a rescue. How could two humans hope to defeat five Armourbacks? The adults reached chest height on a man, but they were broader, and a rock-hard shell made them tough to kill.
Stopmouth gritted his teeth. He wasn’t ready to die, but he refused to let these beasts keep his brother. And he still had time – they preferred live prisoners to quick kills.
He swallowed his fear and jogged back to the mouth of the alley. Then he took a quiet lane running parallel to the one the Armourbacks would probably follow to their territory. He’d need to find a place where he could come out ahead of them. And a plan – he’d need one of those too. He’d have to think one up as he ran.
He passed open doorways where lonely Hairbeast females boomed with song. He leaped old drains and clattered over wider stretches of water on metal bridges. All around him the ancient buildings of the city echoed his footfalls or muffled them in carpets of ragged moss.
Far enough, he thought.
A shaky tower stood nearby with a grey-furred Hairbeast snoozing in its doorway. The creatures were larger than humans and he clipped this one slightly as he jumped over it. He pounded up the stairs, ignoring its bellows. He had no idea what it was saying. All he knew was that the creature was unlikely to break treaty to hunt him.
Three floors later he reached the roof. The surface creaked underfoot and cracks snaked all over it. The whole building looked ready to collapse. Maybe that was a good thing – he might be able to turn the bricks and loose lumps of concrete to his advantage.
Stopmouth walked over the rattling roof to the waist-high wall that bordered it and looked down. Almost immediately he saw his brother’s blond head. The Armourbacks pushed him in front of them with jabs of their spears. Humans would have surrounded their prey, but Armourbacks preferred to drive theirs. Perhaps they feared to leave a desperate enemy within striking distance of their backs.
As the pack moved up the street towards his position, Stopmouth carefully pried rocks away from the wall of the tower. He heaved and strained until a few of the larger ones were balanced on the edge. He wiped sweat from his eyes and tried to ignore the thumping of his heart, which had started up again at the sight of the enemy.
‘Come on! Come on!’ he whispered. He rarely stuttered when talking to himself.
Wallbreaker passed beneath him. Stopmouth held his breath, waiting for the first Armourback. The moments stretched, measured in beads of sweat and a frantic hammering in his ribcage.
Suddenly a flash of light blazed in the sky above him. Heartbeats later a boom followed that shook Stopmouth’s tower and rattled the roof beneath his feet.
The Armourbacks lowered their spears and stared up in what might have been astonishment. But they weren’t watching Stopmouth – their eyes, and even the eyes of their prisoner, were fixed on the great Roof above. Stopmouth didn’t dare follow their gaze. Whatever was happening up there, he wouldn’t let it cost him his brother.
From the Hardcover edition.