Mistress of the Storm, by M.L. Welsh, is an immensely satisfying adventure, of the sort that has tons of appeal both for the young reader and for those of us adults who still turn to children's books for our own reading pleasure! It was published in 2010 in the UK (David Fickling Books), and is coming out here in the US on June 14.
In the seaside town of Wellow, the Gentry had once plied their trade as smugglers--they were the stuff of legend. To young Verity Gallant, they are merely an old tale, not much spoken of, and certainly no part of her uninspired life as a lonely outsider.
But one day, in the town's library, Verity's life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger. "The storm is coming," he says,* and hands her an old book...a book that tells of the Mistress of the Storm, an ancient goddess who has become maddened by her lust for power and possessions.
Then the legendary ship of the old gentry arrives and anchors in Wellow's harbor. Its presence revives the greedy dreams of those who had turned to the evil trade of wrecking ships for their cargos when the Gentry disbanded. Verity's "grandmother" also arrives--and only Verity can see that she is evil and twisted (one of the first things she does is throw Verity's carefully amassed collection of second-hand books away! EVIL!)
And now Verity is caught in an age old story of violence and death told over and over by the Mistress of the Storm herself, and it is up to her to become the heroine of a new story...this time, one with a happy ending. Fortunately she makes, for the first time in her life, friends with two other children who become her stalwart companions (both in adventure, and during research at the town library--yay for libraries!) and even more fortunately, she finds in herself the courage she needs to do what must be done.
There's a lovely, old-fashioned feel to this book. It's set neither firmly in the past, or in the present--there's no technology, but Verity "feels" like a modern child. The setting has a lovely solidness to it--it's a slightly not quite real place, but real in the story sense, and many of the characters are likewise reminiscent of people one might have met in other stories long ago--in an evocative, rather than an imitative, way (if that makes sense?). Verity is a classic example of the bookish outsider making good, and as such many of us will empathize with her, and cheer her on.
The story itself is a beautiful swirl of legends becoming real, of old evil told of in whispers coming back, horribly, into everyday life, of stories that have truth in them, made manifest in the real world. The Mistress of the Storm is a formidable enemy, and Verity is a small heroine, but on her side she has friends, fortitude, a love of books (and the help of the town's librarian), and an unexpected talent for sailing....
Highly recommended. If you love both old-fashioned-ish English children's books and contemporary children's fantasy, you will enjoy this one.
This is a satisfying book as a stand-alone, but it was even more satisfying to me to learn that this was the first in four part series; the next book, Heart of Stone, comes out in January 2012 (in the UK). There's lots more information about the book and its writer here at the author's website.
* Viz "The storm is coming"-- I love this sort of thrilling one liner, like "The wolves are running" (The Box of Delights, by John Masefield) and "The Dark is rising" (Susan Cooper).
(nb: this was sent all the way from England to me by the author, for which I am very grateful).