Believathon Seasonal Read: The Eye of the North- Sinéad O’Hart

I absolutely adored Sinead’s The Star Spun Web earlier this year for its alternate reality- parallel worlds theme and the way she explored real events and places within a fictional alternative setting that made it both a safe space and yet closer to home through investment in the characters.

So when Believathon popped up I knew I wanted to read her first novel The Eye of the North, and I chose this as my seasonal offering focusing on Winter, although it could equally qualify under the prompts for Myths and Legends, Set in the Past, Friendship and possibly even Magic, but not necessarily in the expected ways.

The Eye of the North - Book cover - Sinéad O’Hart
Book cover by Sara Mulvanny

Emmeline Widget has been afraid all her life. She has lived in a terrifyingly dangerous house, with strange creatures popping in and out every now and again from her parents’ expeditions creating a child who doesn’t trust and is an expert on survival techniques.

She is especially afraid now of the future when a letter arrives telling her that her parents are either missing or dead and she must pack up and go to live in the care of a stranger in Paris.

Bundled onto a ship headed for Paris, she finds out that things are not as simple as they seem, that her parents were not quite who she thought they were and that she is about to meet the greatest danger she has spent her whole life preparing for….

She never went anywhere inside her house-not even to the bathroom- without a torch, a ball of twine and a shirt, stout stick…she’d started her fight for survival early.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it’s a perfect read for those who enjoyed Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy, The Pearl in the Ice by Catheryn Constable and Cogheart by Peter Bunzl, for its alternative yet tangible reality, it’s peri-Edwardian charm and feel, and the steam punk aspects of machines and airships on quests to discover and comprehend. Yet it stands as a unique story on its own.

I have to commend Sinéad O’Hart for her ability to juxtapose difficult topics and contexts alongside real peril where due to shock and surprise somehow you just don’t bank on the classic MG trope of the characters being ok and yet with a warmth and heartfelt investment in these fictional people that keeps you enthralled to the very end.

Sinéad has cleverly introduced concepts of human greed, corruption and environmentalism into this epic fantasy quest as we see the machinations of our villain to gain ultimate power reflect both the classic tropes of bad guys and the reality of our own world where people really are prepared to melt ice caps and destroy the world to make money.

A few seconds passed, silent but very full. Thing slid his fingers into Emmeline’s hand, and she gripped them tightly just for a moment. Somehow she knew he understood how it felt to have nobody.

The characters are fantastic. I especially loved the coldness and questioning from Emmeline that grows into learning to trust her instincts sometimes involves trusting others too. Thing, is just a gorgeous (if stinky) bundle of wonderfulness, carrying his own fears and issues yet his survival skills prove him stronger and more capable than even he could imagine and his pureness of heart means you cannot help but root for him.

The cast of supporting players are equally rounded and have hints of more and secrets of their own from Sasha and her fierceness, to the Kindheart of Igimaq and the frosty chill of the North Witch. This, I particularly love that there is much more to the characters than simply a plot device, they have worlds, hopes and fears of their own and is a testament to Sinéad’s ability as a writer. Plus I love that despite the early disappearance of Emmeline’s parents, the adults they encounter are not useless or stupid, they are capable and interesting too.

He looked away from Thing and found Sasha’s gaze instead “Take care of yourself. I won’t be long! I promise you.” His eyes got bigger as he looked at her, almost like he wanted to see as much of her as he could.

Overall, I adored this frosty quest to the north and look forward to more from Sinéad O’Hart as her writing has a deeply wonderful magic about it, a lot of heart and a depth of intelligence that makes the reader look up and consider the world around them too.

The Eye of the North by Sinéad O’Hart is published by Stripes in the UK and Knopf in the USA.

6 thoughts on “Believathon Seasonal Read: The Eye of the North- Sinéad O’Hart

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this – I love Sinead’s writing style. I wasn’t reviewing when I first read this at the start of the year so I really want to read it again and review as it was one of my favourite reads this year. It makes me even more eager to read The Pearl in the Ice now!

    Liked by 1 person

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