Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Black North by Nigel McDowell Review

Title: The Black North
Author: Nigel McDowell
Published: Out Now
Publisher: Hot Key Books

Summary: The Divided Isle, once a place of peace and tranquillity, has been ravaged by war. Twins Oona and Morris live with their grandmother in a stone cottage in the quiet southern county of Drumbroken, but the threat of the Invaders of the Black North - the ravaged northern part of the island - is coming ever closer. When Morris, fighting against the Invaders, is kidnapped by one of the evil Briar Witches, Oona must journey to the unknown realms of the Black North in search of her brother.

She is accompanied only by Merrigutt, a jackdaw with mysterious transformative powers, and a treasured secret possession: a small stone in the shape of a plum, but a stone that reveals truths and nightmares, and which the Invaders and their ruler, the King of the North, seek more than anything. Oona must keep the stone safe at all costs, and find her brother, before the King of the North extends his evil hold over the whole island and destroys it forever

Review:  Lets all just take a few seconds, maybe a minute even to appreciate this fantastic cover! Just look at it...Its like art. I want it as a print to put on my wall! You could see it on a tote bag! I know people say you shouldn't judge a book by a cover, but I feel like I picked up this sixth sense that I can know I'm going to like a book from its cover (its how I found so many amazing books by myself as a child), and this was one of those times. It makes me think of The Snow Queen, and feels dark and exciting...and I'm gonna stop now and get on with the review...

It might just be me, but I don't feel that there's a great deal of Irish fiction out there, and I haven't reading anything this Irish since I read Siobhan Dowd. But it was so refreshing! It was vivid, and entertaining and I felt at the end as if I'd been on a journey with Oona. The book started off with children fighting that almost had an innocence to it, yet by the end of the chapter, you quickly see that this is no innocent event, and this is no innocent story.  

Ahh Oona...I type the name again because I love how Irish it was, and how I enjoy saying it and just like the name, Oona had the feisty spirit to match. The whole book was written both in a voice and prose heavy with an Irish syntax and dialect that gave this novel such a edge. I could hear the accents clearly as I read them, and this gave new life to the characters and the setting - as black as it was.  

And there was a lot of black! But within all this black the land was alive with imagery and the further north you got the more magically twisted and eventful it became. Interweave this with a whole host of magical characters and you have quite the action. The magic, based on folklore had such a earthen quality to it that redefines the phrase making the land come alive. From Briar-witches to Giants, Muddglogg's (watch out for those around your local parks) to changeling's and faceless men McDowell created a whole host of dark and wonderful characters. What was also good about these characters was that they can be as defined as you want them to be, because you along with the narrative help create them and make them what they are. The idea of a broken land, spoke volumes to me, that connected a reality with the fantasy, and really reconnected the underlying political tones that were present in the book.    

At its core its a story about fear, and the lengths that we are willing to go for things we care about. I love how fear and nightmare was used as a weapon, and the ways in which we can overcome such fear. I'm very glad to have been able to find this new voice, and I am excited to read more of his work. 

Take this book and go on a journey. There will be ups and downs, but it's worth the ride!!


Stephen 

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