Book review: Wreckers by Julie Hearn

Fortress Britain is still reeling from a deadly attack that wiped out seven million people and obliterated London.

The outside world is virtually a no-go area, small communities stick closely together and the only common denominator is hope – hope that the ultimate goodness of mankind will heal the wounds of the past.

Because without hope, the future is a forbidding place.

Julie Hearn’s sensational new young adult novel takes us from the mythical, murky depths of Pandora’s legendary box to the ruthless wreckers of 18th century Cornwall and on into the year 2028 where humanity is battling to survive.

A tale of friendship, secrets, love, hate and hope, Wreckers is a thrilling journey which weaves the prosaic and the fantastical into a dark and dizzying adventure.

Ancient curses and brutal history jostle with simmering adolescent sexual tensions and human frailty in a novel that is big on ideas, psychology and heart-thumping action.

Growing up in Port Zannon, Cornwall, has been a claustrophobic experience for 15-year-olds Gurnet, Danzel, Dilly, Jenna and Maude since the terrifying attack which ushered in a new era of authoritarianism and protectionism in Britain.

The Gang, as they call themselves, have rarely left home territory, laws forbid drinking, sex and lewd behaviour in young people and the only legal kick is drinking milk-shots down at The Crazy Mermaid cafe.

The old manor house, now a crumbling ruin, is out of bounds, so spending a secret night there offers the bored teens a bit of longed-for excitement.

But there is something creepy within those four walls and when they discover a strange winged creature inside a hidden alcove and one of them adopts it as his pet, they seem to have unleashed a sequence of terrible misfortunes on their family and friends.

What they don’t know is that 300 years earlier the infamous Cornish wreckers retrieved a plain wooden box from a ship that hit the rocks, little realising the threat that lay inside it.

For the box was Pandora’s, stolen from her shrine, and not all of its evils have yet been unleashed. There was just one left and it’s desperate to get out - hopelessness.

Meanwhile, as the power of the old evil grows ever stronger in the future, can the fragile community cling on to hope or does wrecking remain part of their inheritance?

Hearn intersperses a challenging, informative and fatalistic omniscient narrator amongst the first person accounts of the Gang members creating a brilliantly changing perspective on the past and the present.

Wreckers also excels in its unique storyline and a quirky cast of characters, ordinary teenagers coping with their own growing pains, a dystopian world and an unfathomable and terrifying mystery.

Their individual struggles are just part of a bigger picture which encompasses the innate human need for faith, hope and love in a society that is fiercely secular.

A clever, compelling and strikingly original book that merits a readership far wider than the young adult fiction market.

(Oxford University Press, paperback, £6.99)