Eleven-year-old Danny’s parents are storm chasers – which sounds fun and exciting, and it is, so long as you aren’t the son who has to wait behind at home. And one night, after a particularly fierce storm, Danny’s parents don’t come back. Stranger still, the old sycamore tree in Danny’s yard seems to have been struck by lightning, and when he picks up a fragment of wood from the tree’s heart, he finds he can hear voices … including that of next door’s rather uppity cat, Mitzy. The stick is a taro, a shard of lightning that bestows upon its bearer unnerving powers, including the ability to talk with plants and animals – and it is very valuable.
So valuable, in fact, that it attracts the attention of a Sammael, an ancient figure of darkness and a buyer of souls. And he will do anything to get his hands on it … And so begins a dangerous and daring quest. Danny, who is bewildered, alone and unaccustomed to acts of bravery, must confront his fears, find his parents and unravel the secrets of The Book of Storms.
It is an altogether different experience writing a review about a book written by someone you know. Ruth Hatfield is a longstanding member of the Children’s writing group that I attend in Cambridge. At her book launch I mentioned that I would write her a review and her tentative response, ” I hope you like it,” made me smile, because having read drafts of Ruth’s wonderful writing I was certain that I would like the Book of Storms and in this I wasn’t disappointed.
The Book of Storms is without doubt a wonderful debut by Ruth, confidently written, and engaging from the very start. Danny, an eleven year old town boy adventures into the unknown to find his missing parents after a storm struck the sycamore tree in his garden leaving behind a Taro, a piece of tree which contains the essence of the power of the storm. The Taro endows Danny with the ability to hear animals talk. He realises that being home alone with no parents is not all it is cracked up to be, especially as he has no sibling alive to share this moment of liberation with. Sadly his sister Emma’s young life had already been claimed by a storm. Danny sets out to find his eccentric, unreliable but much loved parents, whose obsession with storm chasing has led to their disappearance. This is no easy task for young Danny as his adversary Sammael is a ruthless, dark, creature untouched by human feeling. Sammael’s intention is to wipe humans off the face of the planet, with the help of The Book of Storms, and Danny is the one obstacle standing in his way. Sammael tempts his victims by offering them the one thing that they desire more than anything else in the world in exchange for their soul. Before you even realise what this truly means to you, what dreaded price you have paid, he has the grains of your soul safely deposited in his pocket. Sammael’s only redeeming feature seems to be his fondness for his dog, Kalia, a grey, mistakenly loyal, lurcher. Kalia’s only wish is to serve his master even if his master is an evil, impatient guy who tends to kick him when Kalia disappoints or misbehaves.
There are so many wonderful characters, Abel Korsakof, the old Polish guy who has an obsession with storms but is under the control of the dreaded Sammael.
Danny’s reluctant cousin Tom who joins him on his quest to find his parents. Tom enjoys nothing better than a good adventure but soon it is clear that Tom has had enough and wants to go home to the farm. He thinks his cousin Danny has gone loopy talking to animals, even though he himself would like nothing better than to talk to animals himself.
Courageous Mitz the cat is fabulous, as are the horses Apple and the piebold, Shimny. There are also talking ants, swallows, grasses, worms, the river, and even dust mites! The world of nature truly comes alive. At times the natural world is a frightening, terrifying place but the character of eleven year old Danny rises above his fear, time and time again, as he grows in wisdom far beyond his youthful years. Sometimes even those who appear harmless are anything but, and those that should protect him, frighten him, wielding an axe in the middle of the night when he least expects it!
The pace of the novel picks up in the final chapters to its exciting conclusion. But I won’t say any more about the ending of the story for fear of spoiling it for you, other than to say that it ends on the top of a hill with a threat, which no doubt will be tackled in the future novels as The Book of Storms is the first novel in a trilogy. I’m so looking forward to reading the rest!
Of course The Book of Storms would be lost without the much needed character of death: “Sammael watched her. They rarely met, but he was always struck by her ugliness: her shapeless, plain face and drooping mouth. Her red eyes were usually as dull as ancient garnets, dragged from the earth covered in dust. Sammael hated creatures that tried to stand in his way, but he hated dull things even more. Death was both. All work and no play, he’d taunted her once, and she hadn’t argued.”
Just a thought to leave you with, if you were approached by Sammael what would you be tempted by? What is the one thing that you long for most? I think for writers it would probably be no self doubt, just the certainty that everything we write will be loved by all!
The Book of Storms has a very positive review on Kirkus reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ruth-hatfield/the-book-of-storms/
Have you read The Book of Storms? Do leave a comment I’d love to hear from you.
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx