Every social sphere contains a few of those charmed and golden elite who seem to be forever sun-kissed and flashing white-toothed smiles. The few for whom, from a distance, life appears to be unfathomably perfect. And, however fleetingly, it is tempting to daydream about becoming one of them. But what is the price of such social royalty? In The Night Climbers, recent Cambridge graduate Ivo Stourton's debut novel, the answer is simple: &andpound;1 million.

Early on in his freshman year at Cambridge, James Walker makes a critical distinction: my world fell into two hemispheres like a neatly halved melon. . . . Those who were talked about and those who were not. Plagued by an overly acute sense of self-awareness, he seems fated to fade into the background until his key to the social elite literally climbs through his bedroom window and opens the door to the world of the beautiful and the rich. Once he enters, his starry-eyed imaginings are realized: secret societies, cocaine-fuelled galas, free-flowing champagne, fox hunts on country estates . . . and late night climbs up facades of the ancient architecture at Cambridge. Intoxicated by the energy and drama unique to the wealthy, beautiful and brilliant, James revels in his newly earned social cachet. More than eager to maintain his good standing, he becomes immersed in their world and, ultimately, an essential addition to their clique. The price of such inclusion, however, isn't fully apparent until years later when, echoing that fortuitous window entrance years ago, a friend from his past walks through his doorway and threatens to shatter everything.

The pace of The Night Climbers is quick, electric and endlessly engaging. Despite a few missteps that present momentary hiccups in an otherwise compelling story, Stourton knowingly encapsulates the world of the privileged, the devastatingly pretty and the eternally youthful. With it, he presents both the hubris that leads to their downfall and the magnetism that allows others to willfully leap after them. Meredith McGuire writes from San Francisco.

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