I was over the moon to have won the chance to read a copy of 'The Somerset Tsunami' before publication. Emma Carroll is an author I'm only just discovering. Earlier this year I read 'Secrets of a Sun King', which was just fabulous. But 'The Somerset Tsunami' is a an absolute triumph. It is wonderfully engrossing, vivid with historical detail and unlike anything I have read before. This is storytelling at its most daring, spellbinding and rewarding.
It is 1616 and witch hunts are increasing across the British Isles. In Somerset, in the hamlet of Fair Maidens Lane, Old Margaret is taken away, accused of witchcraft. Fortune Sharpe, a reckless young girl, doesn't realize the seriousness of this. When she and her brother Jem carve a boat from a tree and are caught taking it out on the sea during Sabbath, things take a dramatic turn. Fortune is sent away to work at the rich manor house of Barrow Hall, where a certain Mr Spicer, along with the dentist Mr Blood, seem to have their own suspicions and secrets. But soon nature will decide to take its own course entirely...
'The Somerset Tsunami' is such a unique and gripping story. Carroll takes an unusual and dramatic event in history and weaves a plot that is heart-pounding, fascinating and strange all at once. Fortune Sharpe is a brilliant creation: boyish, brave and vulnerable in a way that is quite unlike anything I have read in children's fiction. How Carroll links elements of history together while driving forward a story with pace, danger and intrigue is quite genius. Her descriptions bring the seventeenth century to vivid, glorious life: the hamlets, the landscape and the sea flood the senses in a wash of pastel tones and dream-like beauty. You can almost smell the salt in the air - there is something romantic and sublime about it all! And at the same time, Carroll infuses her settings with such unease and a sense of encroaching doom that you can't help but turn the pages like riding waves.
There were events in the story that made me gasp for air. Towards the end, my mouth dropped open in shock and I had no idea how poor Fortune was going to survive. Carroll is unafraid to push at the possibilities of her story, making the whole thing truly riveting and unexpected. There are great discussion points about gender roles, truth and the effects of the weather on our environment, which are very pertinent for today as well, of course. Scott Evans (The Reader Teacher) provides some useful pointers for discussion at the end.
The title is one of the best ever. And credit also needs to go to Julian De Narvaez whose illustration on the cover is beautifully sublime.
'The Somerset Tsunami' carries you on waves: tremendous, enchanting and wild storytelling at its most powerful. Get it in October!
Thank you to Emma Carroll, Booklover Jo and Faber & Faber for this advance copy.