The Brittle Star

Written by Davina Langdale
Review by Lisa Redmond

This is a dazzling debut about a young man in 1860s California. John Evert Burn is 16 when his ranch is attacked, his mother taken, and he is left for dead. Making his way to Los Angeles, he seeks help to find his mother and finds work at a newspaper and companionship of sorts with Bill Gosling, a bounty hunter and Texas Ranger. When Bill is arrested as an outlaw and a killer, John Evert must make a choice between living within or outside the law. Caught up in the battles between North and South as the Civil War breaks out, John Evert chooses to fight alongside the man who has promised to seek his mother. Hardened by the soldiering life, he returns determined to take revenge on those who took her and ultimately to win back the life that was stolen from him.

This is a powerful coming-of-age tale of a young man buffeted by fate and toughened by cruelty, full of beautiful description and characterisation and strong on historical detail. There are strong messages, too, about the impact of war and violence, about the harshness and cruelty of life on the frontier, and especially about the dangers of racism and bigotry. The Civil War and its impact are seen from the point of view of the ordinary people, and this book artfully blends careful research with beautiful writing. This young British writer is clearly incredibly talented and versatile, and I hope this will be the first book in a long and fruitful career. Ideal for fans of Cormac McCarthy or anyone who enjoys Westerns.