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Ash is one of a few dozen adolescents marooned on an enclosed and fortified beach camp. Their parents had brought them to the camp when they were still very small, fortified it with a barbed wire fence and keep out notices, and then abandoned them. Not all the children spoke English, and over the years they have evolved a crude pidgin form of the language with which to communicate. They've almost forgotten what the world used to be like and their distant memories are only reinforced by a pile of old magazines which they pore over with wonder. The ASPs, as they call themselves, like to surf. Ash is the champion surfer and, therefore, de facto leader of the camp.

The outside world is hostile.The Rule Of Claw opens with the death of Derri, an ASP who had ventured outside the compound only to pay with his life for the incursion. Amidst the grief and confusion, the ASPs abandon their cautious vegetarianism and kill and eat a seabird, despite Ash's frantic efforts to stop them. And Ash isn't the only one to be concerned. That night, the young ASP leader is kidnapped by Raptors, a mutated predatory species of the new world outside the camp. And as Ash, together with new friend Rat, from another mutated species, tries to save her friends from certain destruction, she finds out a great deal about what happened to the old world and why things have gone so horribly wrong.

The Rule Of Claw is a real rollercoaster ride. Any junior fan of pacy, exciting adventure stories will love it, especially those ready for a thematic background a little more complex than Jurassic Park. It's a future catastrophe novel in which genetic experiments have created the acceleration of mutations and evolution is moving at a frightening pace. New species are everywhere, dominated by the aggressive raptors. Under the ruins of human cities live the rodents, wise and peace-loving creatures who hope to wait out the crisis, and eventually emerge to help create a newer and kinder world. Ash learns that she and her friends have effectively devolved in terms of social organisation, and indeed the ASPs, or the Agles as the rodents call them, have a primitive rule of law that is very reminiscent of Lord of the Flies

There's a lot going on - perhaps too much at times. Ash faces almost certain death and narrowly escapes it more times than you could shake a stick at. An interesting couple of sub-plots are dropped before being fully explored and characters with potential aren't always followed through. I said "Yes, but what about..." once or twice and children may well say it too. But these aren't major quibbles.The Rule Of Claw is a strong and powerful adventure with a rich thematic background about the possible dangers of genetic experiments, the truth of evolutionary theory, and the notion of God as an expression of the nature of the universe. Fundamentalist religion is also approached together with an interesting sub-text about ethnic cleansing. And Ash is a tremendously charismatic central character.

Ultimately, the message is one of respect - for the planet, for others like ourselves and most importantly for others unlike ourselves. I really enjoyedThe Rule Of Claw - it may be a little too busy for the under 10s and the less confident readers, but everyone else will love it.

My thanks to Orion for sending the book.

Another book set in a rather frightening near future is David Thorpe's Hybrids while Steve Voake's Starlight Conspiracy is just as pacy and exciting for an early venture into sci-fi

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