Sophie D Crockett brings a powerful and distinctive new voice to young adult fiction, with a début novel that is both compelling and uniquely unforgettable. "After the Snow" is set in a post climate-change, post oil-economy Britain of almost perpetual winter. Life is hard, with what remains of government struggling to keep the power on for a few hours per day, using forced labour to operate its coal mines and ageing nuclear power stations, while the dwindling population huddle in what shelter they can find in the crumbling cities, or else try to eke out a living in the wilds, hopefully staying out of official notice.
The story begins in the wilds of Snowdonia as the boy, Willo, returns home from a hare-trapping expedition in the mountains to find his family missing from their home, taken by the authorities, leaving him all on his own, and with no idea why. The tale is recounted throughout by Willo himself, who speaks in a patois of the author's own devising but which is richly redolent of the way English is rendered throughout Wales and which lends the book an authenticity and a uniqueness of style which allows its few minor failings to be totally ignored.
While the book's main conceit and premises are far from original -- it is essentially a tale of survival and of self-discovery -- its approach is both fresh and challenging, to a degree that at times borders on the genius. It is particularly refreshing, for example, to find Manchester and Snowdonia being used as the locations for the story, and highly evocatively, too. Willo's resilience and his reversion to an almost atavistic relationship with his environment (and his consequent total inability to cope when he encounters city life) is superbly developed and deftly handled throughout. Much of the book is brutal and violent -- it is most decidedly not for the squeamish, with the author never once pulling her punches -- but this is also well controlled and suitably measured. The violence is never gratuitous but is an essential element underpinning much of the story; to leave it out or skirt around its presence would demean the tale and rob it of much of the authenticity and authority that it possesses.
If I have any criticism of this book it is perhaps that the ending is just a little too neat and tidy and altogether too convenient -- Hollywood will love it -- but it is not at all out of keeping with the rest of the book. In fact nothing makes me hesitate to award this book a very solid 5-star rating. Very highly recommended, indeed.