The Herald

Trio of debuts

- KATE WHITING

This week’s bookcase includes reviews of The End We Start From by Megan Hunter, The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge and Spoils by Brian Van Reet.

THE END WE START FROM

As a woman with no children, the prospect of becoming a mother for the first time is traumatic enough. But to put myself in the shoes of a woman whose waters have broken during an environmen­tal disaster is terrifying. Hunter’s debut novel makes an explosive start by the woman narrator giving birth to her first child, Z. With a flood wiping out London, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. This is a story of catastroph­e, peppered with endearing experience­s and milestones of new motherhood. A poet, Hunter “tells” the story in sparse prose, which can be difficult to get on board with. That said, it appeared to make me feel more emotionall­y involved, and the powerful ending made it apparent why it was done this way. The End We Start From is beautiful and most of all, hauntingly believable. A stunning debut.

THE HOPKINS CONUNDRUM

Simon Edge’s debut novel has in its sights the Vatican conspiracy thriller – a genre of religious orders, secret missions and coded messages that has proved so successful for the likes of Dan Brown. Tim Cleverley has inherited a struggling pub in North Wales, near the Jesuit seminary where Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the poem The Wreck of the Deutschlan­d and hits on a plan to drum up trade. He invents a mystery around Hopkin’s religious poem, and entices the Conundrum’s author to write about it. This is a great read for anyone who has reached the end of a Vatican thriller with an eyebrow raised.

SPOILS

Brian Van Reet enlisted into the US Army shortly after 9/11, and this experience is obvious from the first page of his debut novel, Spoils. Van Reet’s insight into the reality of war furnishes his straightfo­rward prose with vivid detail and gives the novel its hardhittin­g punch. The threeprong­ed narrative follows eight weeks in the lives of Cassandra, a 19-year-old US soldier who is held a captive by the mujahedeen; Abu Al-Hool, a lifelong jihadi struggling to adjust to the new direction of his brotherhoo­d; and Sleed, a tank crewman caught up in the rescue bid of Cassandra and her crew. Spoils doesn’t shy from brutality, but offers a glimpse into the action and futility of war.

KNIGHTHOOD FOR BEGINNERS

Author and illustrato­r Elys Dolan has penned her first young fiction book – an epic David vs Goliath tale, that’s sure to treat the imaginatio­n and tickle the funny bones of all young readers. Dave is a dragon who’s really pretty rubbish at being a dragon. In fact, he’s the first dragon ever to fail his Dragon Certificat­e. Cast away from his disappoint­ed parents, he stumbles on a book called Knighthood For Beginners and decides he’d rather be a knight than a dragon. As the book instructs, he finds a trusty steed in the form of adventurou­s goat Albrecht. The odd-looking pair are soon imprisoned by towering knight Sir Gnasty, who is plotting to overthrow the King. Dolan has packed 200 pages full of comic-strip illustrati­ons, that fit seamlessly in with the words of her short chapters, making it a fun and speedy read.

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