320 pages / Bloomsbury Children’s Books / Middle Grade, Childrens, Fantasy
The digest: this is simply one of the best MG books that I have ever read, including those I read when I was at the ‘right’ age to be reading these about 15-ish years ago. Keeping in mind the fact that it is the first in the series, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
From the book’s Goodreads page:
“When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet …
Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn’s grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.
But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island’s next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.”
- The story is genuinely intersting, and doesn’t overly rely on the trope of ‘The Chosen One’ which some books in this literary field often do. This is no doubt helped by the fact that the main character’s grandfather (the current Storm Keeper) is getting ready to step down – but he isn’t quite there yet!
- The core elements are familiar – characters have to face seemingly hopeless odds and then progression happens – but don’t feel overused in this instance. The events are surrounded with the right amount of tension, the stakes feel balanced, and more widely the the specific of this book feel like a departure from the norm (helped in no small part by the worldbuilding, discussed below). We see a solid exploration of the ideas of legacy, justice, and resilience across a narrative that sees things go to pot quite early on.
- The writing is clean and consistent and the plot is well-paced, with plenty of action and worldbuilding feel equally fleshed out.
- The characters are believable and their relationships develop well. Yes, the main cast are young(ish) kids and some of their closer relatives, and the characters aren’t fully fleshed out, but the development here feels about as good as it can get in any first books in a series. Furthermore, the characters are not at all idealized – the novel feels truly grounded in the real world, and characters struggle with real issues (hints of mental health issues, resolution after death, the loss of loved ones). The characters feel believable, and are much better than those found in most other MG books.
- The worldbuilding really is very good. We are presented with a simple exploration of key Irish mythology with heaps of original elements thrown in, especially the novel’s main magic systems (and they really are excellent). I won’t ruin them here, but the magic element of this tale of Arranmore Island is genuinely one of the most memorable I can recall. And as excellent as this is, there is still significant scope for further development in later books.
- It is emotionally-charged. Fionn’s grandfather is getting ready to step down from his role as magical protector of the island, and we all know that when grandparent figures feature in coming of age or legacy stories, there are only a few reasons why this happens. I’m not going to spoil it any more than that – but flipping heck I wept like a baby at least once.
- I mean, there is nothing actively bad about this book. We get frustrated with certain characters when we are meant to (so that can’t be a negative). There is certainly room for improved diversity of characters but as above, we do see representation of mental health issues, as well as other longterm illnesses.
Conclusion: This 320-page children’s novel packs more of an emotional punch, and somehow feel more tense, than any number of ‘adult’ fiction books. The world is this novel is not perfect, but that just means that it is easier to identify with. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.
I’ll note that there is a sequel already out (a review for which is coming soon, spoilers: it is also amazing), with the third instalment due for either late 2020 or early 2021 (no definite date given).