Newt lives in Bearmouth, a labyrinth of mines ruled by toil and tradition, populated by hardened boys and men (Newt has been told they are a eunuch). But the arrival of a new boy named Devlin forces Newt to question everything about Bearmouth, freedom and even Newt's own identity.
Newt narrates this tale with striking frankness and originality, elaborating on the culture of Bearmouth and offering personal opinions on the mine, the miners and their place among them. Newt's best friend, Thomas, is beginning to teach Newt to read and write, which the text itself reflects—Bearmouth is written nearly phonetically. “Learnin letters is hard. My eyes strayne at the end o lessun wi the bryteness o the candul lyte,” Newt explains in the opening pages. Readers shouldn’t hesitate to read Newt’s words aloud as they begin Bearmouth, as doing so brings us closer to the way Newt is working to uncover reading, writing and new ideas.
Bearmouth drapes a mysterious and fantastical veil over well-trodden young adult themes. Gender, identity, rebellion and even revolution are shrouded in literal darkness in Bearmouth’s caverns, and readers will share in the characters’ confusion as the story twists and winds like the mine’s passages. Rest assured, there’s light at the end of its tunnels.
Newt’s discovery of the truth about Bearmouth and about who they really are makes for a fresh take on coming-of-age tropes. In this impressive debut novel, Liz Hyder spins a satisfying web of tension, action and revelation, rooted in a truly unique narrative voice.