Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Review: Stormswept by Helen Dunmore

In One Line: Girl meets Mer-boy and discovers a whole new side to herself!
Genre: Atmospheric realist-fantasy for girls
The Gist:
Morveren and her identical twin sister Jenna live on an island off the coast of Cornwall. Morveren is the passionate and fiery twin, whilst Jenna is lovely and gentle, which isn’t surprising - I’d grow up to be a bit of a pissed-off pre-teen if I had a name like Morveren and my sister was called something nice like Jenna. Anyways - after a big storm Morveren discovers an injured boy washed up on the shore, except that it’s not actually a boy, it’s a Mer-boy! And he’s conveniently a similar age to Morveren, so they connect really easily. Angsty Morveren decides to do whatever she can to help the Mer-boy and moves him to a rock pool so that he can heal before returning him to the sea, and in the process she discovers some startling things about herself. There’s also a lot of stuff about Morveren’s connection to her sister and how that shifts as they grow up. And there’s also a magical fiddle and some underwater adventure too!
The Cover:
That’s definitely Morveren on the front - look how moody and angsty she is! I actually think that this is a pretty stunning cover. The real-life hardback is all flecked with gold as well, which is gorgeous. 
Why You’ll Love This Book:
  • It’s just beautiful. Dreamy prose (it’s the kind of book where the writing is so beautiful that it deserves to be called ‘prose’) and quality storytelling - you can tell that Dunmore is a writer who knows her stuff. 
  • She manages to make the fairytale very realistic and believable, and not like fantasy writing at all. I was particularly impressed with the descriptions of the Mer people. These aren’t your typical Disney-fied mermaids with shell-bras and colourful tails that match their shell-bras - what you get are descriptions of a species that could actually exist. Well, not ACTUALLY exist, but she writes them very believably.
  • This novel sits in the world of the other Ingo novels, of which there are four, but it is stand-alone and you don’t have to read any of the others first. In fact, this book could work very nicely as a gateway to Dunmore’s other fiction for younger readers and bring those older novels back into the spotlight. 
  • Malin (the name of the Mer-boy) reminds me of Peter Pan with his boyish arrogance and the other-worldly misunderstanding of human beings, yet he clings to Morveren in the same way that Peter clings to Wendy. I liked this. 
  • It’s all very innocent and lovely - you could lend this book to your kid sister and be safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to corrupt her in any way. There’s barely even any hand-holding. This book is hanky-panky free.

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • This book is hanky-panky free. To the extent that I’d much prefer to see it as a 9-12 or Middle Grade title and not kept in the teen section. Regular readers of YA will be disgruntled with the lack of anything remotely sexual. Not even any tweeny, embarassing urges. Nothing. Nada. I don’t think any young lady today is that innocent at 13, especially when confronted with a naked Mer-boy washed up on the shore. 
  • The name Morveren. I just didn’t like it. 
  • It’s a very soft book, and very safe. Too safe. This is what teen fiction used to be like when I was a teenager, and it was unsatisfying. I almost feel that Dunmore is writing what she thinks teenagers SHOULD be reading, rather than what they actually are reading. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
Unfortunately, it didn’t pass. I think that was down to the lack of action in some places - it’s very wordy - and Morveren’s childlike approach to Malin. Although it really picks up pace once Morveren enters into the underwater world of Ingo, and the set up of the action towards the climax of the novel as Morveren tries to get Malin back to the sea is riveting. 
Final Verdict:
This really wasn’t one for me. I was drawn in by the great cover and the potential of the girl meets boy (with tail) premise, but I was hoping for something a tiny bit sexier, especially with it sitting in the teen section. However, this is a quality book and deserves to be read by 9+ girlies who like their fairy-tale fantasy. I haven’t read any of the other books in the Ingo series, and I probably won’t, but I’m looking forward to recommending them to young readers who aren’t yet ready for the more passionate stuff in the teen section. 
Further Reading:
Ingo by Helen Dunmore
Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs
The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
Buy Stormswept here!


  1. Hang on, I bought the book for my daughter the other day, and it says 9+ on the back. Surely that means it isn't meant for teens anyway?

  2. Hi Anonymous! You are RIGHT!!! But for some reason it sits in the teen section in Waterstones book shops. It's the same with all the Ingo books. This happens sometimes! I hope your daughter likes it, the writing is stunning!