Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty
I hadn’t read a children’s book in a while. In fact, when I do it’s usually up a notch in age group to young adult level. Often, I would have taken my reading recommendations from my pupils but this time I was drawn by the cover hee hee!. Anyway, am I glad I read this gem, this “crystal”! (Geddit? Well, you will when you read the book!)
The premise of the story is an underlying threat from “The Infested Side”, the world of monsters, or more accurately, “legends”, who aim to infiltrate and overcome the humans in the “Promised World”. Finn is twelve years old and fated to be the next Legend Hunter in his town Blighted Village of Darkmouth. He is in line to succeed his father, Hugo, who obsesses with catching or “dessicating” these legends who are threatening to take over the world. The trouble is that Finn is no superhero and looks at life through the lenses of any regular kid his age. He contends with school, homework, bullies, relationships—he is growing up. The difference is that all the while he is being relentlessly trained by his father to take over the role of protector of the town to prevent an ultimate and seemingly inevitable doom.
Simply put, the book is clever and engaging. The start is on the slow side but it soon takes off. Significant but subtle clues are casually rolled into view and just out of the corner of your eye you may make out a hint of what is to come.
The main success of the story is that at no point do we lose sight of this tension: will Finn succeed, keep the legends at bay, save the town and the world too? He engages in his daily training routines but is torn between a wish to be the same as everyone else and an innate desire to please his father and fulfil his designated role in life. This inner turmoil is the other hook. We will him to succeed and it is this empathy with the protagonist that keeps us reading.
The author manages to ratchet up the tension even further by using the other characters as the means for Finn to reveal his true self. The well-worked characters of Emmie, Broonie and Mr Glad provide important glimpses of Finn’s abilities and potential as does the fraught relationship he shares with his father. The common-sense but also tender relationship he has with his mother proves to be an eye-catcher and she is the one to hold the household together, keeping a hold on reality.
I laughed along too, and the splashes of humour give some welcome relief from the threat of the legends. The Concise Guide to The Legend Hunter World is hilarious as are the decidedly “Irish” references such as “Niall Blacktongue” or “Dermot the Tomorrow-Knower”. Sergeant Doyle’s extended cameo role fits the bill as he does his best to maintain law and order in a chaotic but still relatively normal day-to-day existence for a “garda”.
The author has conjured quite the world and if you’d like to take a rip-roaring trip into the known and the unknown, get your hands on a copy.
The next instalment, Darkmouth: Worlds Explode is out now. I’ll be getting it. Now, where’s my fighting suit?:)