Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty - Review

It's about to get Legendary all over Ireland

Sarah Webb on the first in a new fantasy series by the arts journalist, Shane Hegarty (review first published in the Irish Independent)

shane hegarty
shane hegarty

Shane Hegarty, a well-known arts journalist, made his own headlines in 2013 when news broke of his six-figure children's book deal following a frenzied auction at the Bologna Book Fair. His debut children's novel, Darkmouth, the book that caused all the excitement and cheque waving, is published next week. So does it live up to the hype?

The answer, in a word, is yes. I haven't been this excited about a fantasy adventure novel since I read Derek Landy's first Skulduggery Pleasant book in 2007. Interestingly, Hegarty and Landy share the same publishing house, HarperCollins, and the same publicist, Mary Byrne, one of the best in the business. (Not that Mary Byrne, although she is Irish!) If anyone can make Darkmouth a successful international brand, she can.

The book opens in the rather Dickensian, mist-swirling town of Darkmouth, the last 'Blighted Village' in Ireland that still has 'Legends' or monsters, terrifying man-eating creatures from myths and fables. Enter 12-year-old Finn, the youngest of generations of Legend Hunters. The future of Darkmouth rests on his shoulders, but there's one major problem: Finn is more likely to run away from a Minotaur rather than successfully shoot one with his Ghostbusters-nod Desiccator gun.

His father, the Rambo of Legend Hunters, is determined to change this and his son's gruelling training begins. But when the village is threatened with the worst attack of Legends ever encountered , will Finn rise to the challenge?

It's hard to believe that this is Hegarty's first children's book. His characters, including Finn's mysterious and plucky new friend, Emmie and the 'Hogboon' from the 'Infected Side', Broonie, are beautifully crafted and utterly believable. There are hilarious scenes and brilliant wise cracks that reminded me of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl, balanced with gentle family scenes between Finn and his hilarious and hard-working dentist mum, a character who will have bedtime-story reading mums cheering out loud. Kudos to Hegarty for making an adult woman in a fantasy-adventure novel not only super smart but witty too. The difficult relationship between Finn and his ambitious and testosterone-driven father is also touching and real.

Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)
Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)

Hegarty's writing has an attractive lightness of touch which is spot on for the nine-plus age group and now and then his character's clever life observations make you sit up and take notice. It's slightly slow to get going, as Hegarty has a lot of world-building to do, but once the action kicks in, it's a rollercoaster of a read.

The story is enhanced by the magnificent black and white line drawings by James de la Rue. Illustrations in children's novels are making a comeback and it's a brave and savvy move, one that will make this book stand out in the international fantasy-adventure fray.

Book two in the series, Into the Infested Side, will be published in July, so readers don't have too long to wait for their second Darkmouth fix. With a cracking story, eye-catching cover design and catchy but simple tag line: 'It's about to get Legendary', I think the clever folk at HarperCollins may have another superstar writer on their hands. Watch out, Landy, there's a new kid in town!

Darkmouth; Shane Hegarty; HarperCollins, hdbk, 416pp, £9.99

Sarah Webb's new book for younger readers, The Songbird Café: Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake, will be published in March

2015 - Children's Books To Look Forward To

I had a neck injury last week which meant I could only type for short amounts of time. As I have a novel for adults to finish before Christmas this was not the idea situation, although said novel is the very reason I was spending so long every day at my computer. The Catch 22 of a writer’s life. I had to rest my neck at regular intervals. Yes, this does mean I had to lie in bed and for those of you who know me, yes, I was very cranky. I’m not a good patient! However it did mean I got lots and lots of reading done.

Not only did I catch up on books published in 2014, I also read lots of books out in 2015. I’m now pretty much on top of my to-be-read pile for the first time in a year. I have a few yet to be published books to read next (writers looking for feedback) and then my 2014 reading will be complete.

So what goodies should you be looking out for in 2015?

Some Strong YA Titles

captive a j
captive a j

Captive by AJ Grainger (Jan 29th)

Annalie Grainger is my editor at Walker so I was predisposed to like this one but also worried that I wouldn’t. I needn’t have stressed – it’s super. A smart, gripping thriller about a girl called Robyn Knollys-Green who is the daughter of the British Prime Minister. She’s kidnapped by a radical group but one of her captors is not all that he seems.

Annalie has a wonderful voice and Robyn is a flawed yet highly likable heroine. The moral questions in the book are handled deftly and I flew through this one. 8/10

Vendetta by Catherine Doyle (Jan)

Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever when a family of five boys moves into a house in her neighbourhood. Her father is in jail and her life is not exactly easy. But it’s about to get even more complicated.

Set in Chicago, this is a compelling romance set in the Mafia underworld. Another strong debut, this time by an Irish author. 8/10

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Another debut, with one of the strongest opening pages I’ve read in a long time:

‘One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my class was told to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up . . . This is what I wrote: I want to be a girl.’

I haven’t finished this one yet, but I love the voice and it’s another gripping read. 8/10 so far

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (Jan)

A wonderful book, funny and heartbreaking and real. The main character, Theodore Finch holds the reader’s attention (and heart) right through the book. I love American YA and this is right up there with John Green and Sarah Dessen. 8/10

Next on the to-be-read pile is:

Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson (Feb)

I’ve just started this one and I love it so far. Sheena is such a strong writer and her dialogue sings. 8/10 so far

Age 9+ (Middle Grade)

Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)
Darkmouth_Front_RGB2 (1)

Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty (29th Jan)

Believe the hype. This fantasy adventure yarn is a stunning debut. The relationship between the young hero (anti-hero in fact as the clumsy lad isn’t exactly equipped to save the world), Finn and his father, a famous Legend (monster) hunter, is touching and real, and I adored Finn’s hard-working dentist mum, one of the funniest characters in the book. There are touches of Ghostbusters in the mix, along with some Bond-like gadgets, plus a rather Dickensian setting (the mist-swirling town of Darkmouth).

It’s for slightly younger readers than Skulduggery Pleasant, there’s more family drama and less horror. Hegarty’s writing has an attractive lightness to it, and now and then his clever life observations make you sit up and take notice. It’s slightly slow to get going as there’s a lot of world-building to do, but I can’t wait to read the second book in the series. With a super cover design and a catchy but simple tag line – ‘They’re coming and only Finn can save us. Shame he’s a bit rubbish’, not to mention a cracking first book, I think those clever folk at HarperCollins have another top brand on their hands. 9/10

The 13-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (29th Jan)

Andy and Terry live in the world’s best treehouse according to the blurb on the back of this book. And after reading the book, I have to agree.

Already a huge hit in their native Australia (360,000 copies sold), this series will make any Wimpy Kid fan happy with its blend of humor and zany illustration. 7/10

The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce (March) is also on the to-be-read pile, along with Sarah Bannan’s adult novel, Weightless (March). I'm also looking forward to reading Phil Earle's Demolition Dad.

Plenty to look forward to in 2015 already!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX