By Ekta R. Garg
November 1, 2017
Genre: Children’s fiction
Release date: August 22, 2017
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
After her parents disappear, a young girl gets kidnapped too. As she tries to figure out who would want to kidnap her family and why, she will also have to try to make sense of other events that have greater implications for the world at large. Author Sinead O’Hart tackles climate change and mythical creatures all with a plucky protagonist in her mostly likable debut novel The Eye of the North.
Emmeline Widget can take care of herself. Her parents, scientists, spend most of their time on expeditions away from home, so much so that Emmeline carries around a satchel at all times full of survival essentials. She’s also read countless books on techniques and tools to help her out of almost any problem.
Her informal training may truly benefit her, Emmeline discovers, when she receives a mysterious letter from her mother. The letter states that if Emmeline is reading the words on the page, in all likelihood her parents have been kidnapped. For her own safety, the letter continues, Emmeline should leave her home immediately and travel to Paris. There she should go to the address included in the letter, ask for a Madame Blancheflour, and live with the woman until the age of 18.
Satchel in hand, Emmeline boards a ship bound for France. There she meets a stowaway who calls himself Thing because, he explains, that’s how everyone has always addressed him. Within hours of getting on the ship, Emmeline finds out that someone—or several someones—want to kidnap her as well. She and Thing do their best to evade capture, but the inevitable happens: Emmeline gets snatched from the deck by a Dr. Siegfried Bauer.
With the world’s topography changing dramatically, Dr. Bauer wants immortality. After decades of research, he has discovered he can call forth the Kraken in Greenland. Anyone who summons the Kraken and offers a living sacrifice can command the beast and utilize its powers, including those that make it live forever. Dr. Bauer set Emmeline’s parents with the actual task of drawing the Kraken out of its glacial home; Emmeline will serve as the sacrifice.
All is not lost, however. Thing begins working on a plan to save Emmeline. He meets a bevy of friends along the way who help him in his quest, and he lives through some adventures himself. As both Emmeline and Thing travel to Greenland, they will have to contend with what awakening the Kraken means not only for them personally but also for the rest of the world.
Author Sinead O’Hart’s debut novel zips along at a fast clip once Emmeline gets kidnapped by Dr. Bauer. Much of the action before her kidnapping feels like filler, however. The book begins just as Emmeline receives her mother’s letter. As soon as she’s done reading, the butler informs Emmeline she has five minutes to grab anything extra (he’s already packed her bags, of course,) before they must drive to the dock. The jarring start to the book requires a great deal of suspension of belief, and the lack of plausibility might discourage more advanced readers.
The introduction of Thing, too, doesn’t exactly make one warm up to him right away. Eventually, however, readers will grow to like him as much as Emmeline does, and O’Hart does an admirable job of keeping his back story just out of reach until it’s absolutely needed. Until that moment late in the book, though, readers will have to content themselves with accepting the fact that Thing is a resourceful orphan who is just nosy enough to follow Emmeline and then rescue her.
On a larger scale, O’Hart’s book feels like it’s reaching for too many things all at once. Roundabout mentions in passing of massive climate change may provoke curiosity and questions, but they don’t receive much attention. O’Hart ropes in fabled creatures, a la the Kraken (and others that get a rushed mention at the end,) but their inclusion feels more like a bid to appeal to the younger end of the target audience. A witch pops up briefly, almost as if items on a checklist needed ticking. In many other places, the mechanics of the action are entirely unclear and some of the characters come across as placeholders.
For readers who don’t mind putting aside a little bit of logic and who can enjoy an adventure for adventure’s sake, The Eye of the North might be worth a read. I recommend readers Borrow The Eye of the North.