Rewind some years, to that time before the coup, and Zoe and her aunt are harvesting miraculous south-sea ink (added to pigments, it makes other colours more vivid) from squid that have a taste for human blood. It’s a risky but worthwhile craft, and one whose secrets the village jealously guards from nosey northerners. Zoe thinks she will do anything to defend her village’s way of life. She has no idea, at first, what “anything” may lead her to. Arnott’s eco-fable, set in a politically broken near future, explores the constant push-pull that exists between our capacity for enchantment and our need to exploit what we find.
His second novel, The Rain Heron (Atlantic, £14.99), following his 2018 debut Flames, focuses on characters fighting for survival in a near-future country blighted by climate change and ruled by a ruthless military regime. A prologue recounts the fable of the Rain Heron, a creature said to bring rain and fecundity to the land, and the mythical bird threads its way through the novel as we follow Ren, a woman who fled from the city to eke out a subsistence living in the mountains, and Lieutenant Harker, the leader of a militia which comes in search of the eponymous heron.