Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner

Review: Under Earth by Ellen Renner



‘He’ll try to dazzle you with riches and promises! Keep your wits about you, Niece, and meet me in the Merry Whale in a five-day when the sun is six hands risen above the sea.’ (Under Earth by Ellen Renner. P29.)



Storm’s duties as a Weather witch are getting real. She must give up her identity as a female, sail with the fleet and remain loyal to Yanlin. Her first big test turns out to be the trading island of Bellum. Bellum’s wealth is tightly controlled by a collective called the Pact, who shower Storm with gifts and attention, but it is apparent that the Pact want something of Storm’s powers in return.

The more Storm sees of Bellum Town, the more questions she has. Why are there children in poverty when there is so much wealth on the island? Why are there no local artisans? And what does the Salamander – the great, god-like spirit of fire which wants her dead – have in store for Storm?

As Storm pieces together the evidence, she learns more about her own magic. About the reason she was chosen by the other three Elementals.



Under Earth follows on from Storm Witch, a middle-grade fantasy which won my love in 2018. Storm lives in a world where great god-like beings rule over earth, air, water and fire. Three of these Elementals have chosen storm for a mission. The fourth, the Salamander of Fire, has tried to kill her – and will try again as it tries to upset the balance of the world and gain power. Storm knows she has been chosen as a Weather witch but not why. This story follows her as she comes to terms with what she must accept and sacrifice in order to fulfill her role.

It also introduces a new part of the world. Bellum Island is one of the wealthiest nations, yet the majority of its money is hoarded by an elite group of families. Other citizens are barely recognised as such. They are treated as second-rate people. As scavengers and slackers and a complete drain on the island’s resources. What is more, traditional skills are at an all-time low. The island no longer produces things of its own. All of its wealth is in trade. Bellum may be beautiful on the surface, especially to a guest of the Pact, but at its heart, its values are rotten to the core.

Similarities between Bellum and current-day Britain are striking. This book explores political crisis from the angle of trade and international relations, both concepts which too many adults ignore when talking about Brexit and austerity.  While these are deep subjects, they are woven into the story in such a way to provide rich details without slowing the pace. The main question for the readers is will Storm be tempted away from her home in Yanlin? Or forced?

There’s also her ongoing fight with the Salamander. This is something I loved about the series from the start. Think Moana. Think of a sea-based world where knowledge of the Gods remains to varying extents, but where everyone knows the origin stories. That’s Storm’s world too. Fire has always been held in check by Earth, Air and Water, but now it is making a bid for greater power. The consequences, if it breaks free, could destroy the world.

The ending has left me desperate for the next installment. It also linked back to those themes of austerity in a touching way. There is something about Storm which makes her different from every ‘chosen one’ you can think of. I can’t say more without spoilers, but I found this side of the story touching and brilliant.

Under Earth moves the story along while living up to the magic of Storm Witch. I am already waiting to get my hands on the third volume. Great stuff.


Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD for my copy of Under Earth. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Storm Witch by Ellen Renner

Storm Witch Blog Tour Banner

storm witch


‘…Does anyone doubt that was Air magic? The Albatross’s prophecy proves this: ‘As you command words, so you shall command the wind. Storm-bringer. Storm-rider. Storm-queller.’ 

‘Her choosing has confirmed our suspicions. The Albatross signaled its intent to grant power to the child before she was born: Storm is an Air-witch.’ 

(From Storm Witch by Ellen Renner. P57.) 


At thirteen, children on Yanlin are Chosen by one of the elementals – Earth, Air, Fire or Water. Their choosing determines their apprenticeship and their future life-path. Storm, still recovering from the loss of her father, wants only to avoid the Water Elemental.

Instead, she is chosen by three Elementals – Earth, Air and Water. The fourth tries to kill her. There will be no easy destiny – Storm is a witch with great powers. She must help her island in the fight against The Drowned Ones, the band of pirates who roam the seas, destined never to live on land.

Then a boy washes up on the island and Storm makes a decision – a choice which will change her life forever.


Storm Witch starts a new fantasy quartet which will be beloved by fans of Abi Elphinstone. Think the one chosen for a different destiny. Think vengeful pirates. Think Gods with a plan. Guys, this one is something special and it is going to be huge.

Storm has experienced tragedy before, and she wants nothing more than to keep her loved ones safe. Unfortunately, the Gods don’t seem to have planned it that way, and she finds her home and family in constant danger. I love how Storm had to face up to and own her abilities. She’s not a cardboard cut-out chosen-one but is forced to embrace her powers by circumstance.

Storm is teased for her boy’s name, and when she becomes a witch she gives up her gender entirely. Meanwhile, her cousin is considered soft because he allies with Earth and wants to remain on the island rather than go out on the boat with the men. It was lovely to see commentary about gender worked into a fantasy story. The culture of Yanlin divides male and female in a way which could be a metaphor for real-life preconceptions about gender. I will be interested to see whether this theme develops across the series.

There was another character who provided an interesting dynamic – Mixi is introduced as a bully, but her own perspective is slowly fed to us until we empathise with both Mixi and Storm. I love it when authors write strong characters who we don’t necessarily like. The difference between liking and empathy is one of the most important lessons we can learn as human beings.

As well as being a gripping adventure, Storm Witch introduces a new setting. Storm’s world of pirates and Elementals and apprenticeships to the island’s Elders was so well described that I finished the book feeling as if I had visited Yanlin. From the magical caves of the Elementals to the staff-carrying elders, there was just enough description to make this place real.

A strong start to the series which establishes the world and character and sets out Storm’s dilemma. This will doubtless be a hit and I look forward to finding out how the story continues.


Storm Witch by Ellen Renner is published on 6th September by Nosy Crow in paperback priced £6.99

Thanks to Nosy Crow LTD and EDPR for inviting me on to the tour and for my ARC of Storm Witch. Opinions my own.