Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Guest post from Claire Fayers, author of Storm Hound.

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Blog Tour: Guest post from Claire Fayers, author of Storm Hound.

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Storm Hound, a middle grade adventure about a storm dog who falls to earth and meets a girl in Wales.

What is a storm hound? To answer that, you’ll have to look to mythology, and to Claire Fayers. Her understanding of the relationship between place, mythology and adventure is one of the things which brings the book to life.

I was delighted to be offered a guest post from Clarie, and to hear more about the mythology which fed into her story. Thank you to Claire for your time. 

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The Missing Mountain Top

“What is geography, after all?” said Professor Nuffield. “It’s the study of the land, and you can’t begin to understand a land and its people until you know something of their legends.”

Wales is a land of legends, and the Black Mountains around Abergavenny have more than their fair share. A group of red sandstone hills, wrapped around in green
heather, just the name conjures up castles, magic and ancient battles. I spent many pleasant hours walking in the mountains when I was researching Storm Hound. One of my favourite walks is to the top of Skirrid Fawr. It’s quite a low mountain and you’ll spot its distinctive shape straight away. The long peak has a dip in the middle as if a large part has been scooped out.

The mountain’s name comes from the Welsh ‘Ysgryd’ which means split. The most
likely explanation for the missing piece at the top is a landslip in the Ice Age, which
formed Ysgryd Fawr (big Skirrid) and the nearby hill Ysgryd Fach (little Skirrid). But the most likely explanation is not the most interesting and the inhabitants of the Black Mountains have come up with many more exciting tales.

 

The Crucifixion
The first story says that the mountain split in sympathy at the exact moment of Christ’s death. Because of this, Skirrid is also known as the Holy Mountain, and people used to take handfuls of the soil to scatter on crops, houses and churches for good luck.
There was a church on the mountain peak – St Michael’s Chapel. You can still see
the ruins if you climb up.

 

The Devil and St Michael
Welsh folklore is cluttered with tales of people outwitting the Devil. In this story, the
Devil tried to tempt the archangel Michael. When, inevitably, he failed (because who
in their right mind would try to tempt an archangel), the Devil stamped in rage on the
mountain and broke it.

 

The Devil and Jack O’Kent
There’s a large flat stone on the top of Skirrid, where the Devil played cards with a
local giant known as Jack O’Kent.

Once, the two of them got into an argument about which mountain was higher – the nearby Sugarloaf, or the Malvern Hills across the border in England. It turned out to be the Sugarloaf and the Devil, losing his temper yet again, scooped an apron full of earth from the top of Skirrid, meaning to dump it on the Malverns to make them taller. (The Devil, it seems, is a very bad loser.) But his apron broke and the earth and formed the little Skirrid hill.

Because the Devil never gives up in these tales, he later challenged Jack that he
couldn’t jump from the top of Skirrid to the Sugarloaf. Jack succeeded, and left a
giant footprint in the top of Skirrid.

 

Skirrid Ghosts

Finally, while you’re visiting the mountains, you should also visit Skirrid Mountain Inn,
which is said to be the most haunted building in Wales, and probably the whole of the
UK. Maybe even the most haunted place in the world given the number of ghosts
who are queuing up to frighten people.
I have to admit, I’ve never seen any ghosts, but you never know what you might find
with an open mind and a dash of imagination.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw for arranging this opportunity.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Storm Hound by Claire Fayers

Review: Storm Hound by Claire Fayers

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Synopsis:

Jess Price finds the cutest puppy in a rescue centre, but it turns out he isn’t any ordinary dog. He is Storm of Odin, the youngest puppy in the wild hunt, and he is in danger.

Storm hounds are full of magic, a resource which is running short in the human world, and there are people who would kill Storm for his magic. Meanwhile, Jess can’t tell whether the new boy at school has an agenda of his own.

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Review:

A magical adventure with a big heart. I love stories about magic which are rooted in folklore and place, so it was a delight to read Storm Hound which is set in Wales. It imagines a world where the figures from mythology are an eternal presence. The magicians of stories past are as alive today as they were centuries ago.

The relationship between Storm and Jessica is beautiful, and I love Storm’s unique voice. Although he is a tiny puppy, he has the voice and attitude of an ancient god. He thinks an angry neighbour as the Valkyrie-Lady and refers to Jess as his human servant. If you like stories which give you an insight into the thoughts of other animals, this one is for you.

This is also a story about a family finding their new normal after an amicable split. Jessica and her brother are from London, and the Welsh countryside is outside their experience. They’ve left their friends and everything they know behind to be with their Dad. They adjust to this in different ways. It was nice to see a story about a break that wasn’t traumatic. Sometimes separation is a healthy and mutual choice. Although it hurts, young readers need stories where the characters move forward with a positive outlook.

A gentle sense of humour makes this stand out among middle-grade fantasy adventures. Although the threat is there, and it has the potential to change the world, this story never felt dark or frightening. It maintained that sense of wonder and humour which is unique to children’s literature.

After Mirror Magic in 2018, a book which swept me away, Clare Fayers had a hard act to follow. I have to admit I was turning the pages until I reached the conclusion and will be back here for her next story.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw and Macmillan Children’s Books UK for my proof copy of Storm Hound. Opinions my own.