Julie Hearn must enjoy a challenge. Some of her plot’s ingredients are: the original Pandora’s Box; 18th-century Cornish Wreckers; 2028 England with London wiped out 15 years earlier in The Attack, a kamikaze terrorist assault; a ‘meltingly gorgeous’ Hollywood actor backed by a production crew including a ‘researcher’ who is an undercover scholar/US government agent; and a mysterious boarded-up mansion on the cliffs, guarding a dangerous secret. The world has been jolted to its senses by The Attack and, guided by the newly-thriving Eco-Christian Church, governments are restoring the fishing grounds to their former levels. Such reform requires dictatorial governance, however, and society has returned to whippings, hangings, and severe punishment for such crimes as pregnancy outside marriage. The narrative is carried by the distinctive voices of a group of five teenagers, punctuated by occasional commentary from an all-knowing voice (set in italics); its identity, this voice teases, we ‘won’t know until after you die, and maybe not even then’. Arching over all of this is a Great Archetypal Theme worthy of any Greek myth: Hope versus Hopelessness.
Of course it is a distortion to summarise by way of such a list, but even so this mixture really shouldn’t work. There probably is too much to handle here, but Hearn is a storyteller well able to keep her readers intrigued until these disparate elements resolve into a coherent narrative. The youngsters are an interesting and varied group who have grown up securely together in the small Cornish village of Port Zannon; now, in adolescence, they are finding that things are changing disturbingly between them. Their familiar relationships are shifting and to make matters more confusing, the tale in which they become entangled has its explosive sources in classical story and the wrecking savageries of their own ancestors. It may stretch belief to suggest that the future of civilization (as it has evolved from our own pre-Attack years) depends on five teenagers in a fishing village; but so long as readers surrender to the headlong excitement of the telling, they will accept that the teenagers’ actions might avert a global catastrophe. For if Hopelessness, accidentally released by one of the youngsters from Pandora’s Box, spreads out over the sea and beyond, what else is there? Ironically, it turns out that Hopelessness itself is vulnerable to the power of love; and so long as Hearn can make you believe that, you’ll believe anything.