I like to read the odd middle grade book now and again, and The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart sounded like it had the potential to be a great book when it turned up in the books of the month Netgalley email. Sadly, for me it didn’t quite live up to that potential.
Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer.
Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too. Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world?
First of all, the things I did like. Emmeline was a very interesting character and I really liked how she was prepared for everything, and how she could adapt the things around her to be of use. I mean, it all stemmed from the paranoia instilled in her by her upbringing, but it was a good take on anxiety. I also liked Thing, and his willingness to protect this young girl he comes across by accident, even when it’s clear she’s in much deeper trouble than he ever imagined. My problem with the two of them was that they never seemed to properly connect, and therefore I never connected with their friendship. Thing knew Emmeline for all of five minutes before she was kidnapped, and I was just never sure of why he cared so much. Yes, he’s a good, decent lad but I expect a bit more motivation than that in a story with kidnappings and potential deaths! It could have worked, if we’d just seen the two of them actually being friends for a bit longer.
The other thing I liked was the idea. I’m a sucker for stories with a young heroine forced to survive on her own in a story with mythical or supernatural elements, so this should have been right up my street. It failed somewhere in its execution, although I can’t put my finger on why. Again, I’m not sure we spent enough time with our villain to work out his underlying motivations. Obviously he wanted power, but why? The same was true of the Northwitch, who could have been an awesome character.
I enjoyed reading The Eye of the North, and it’s a perfectly acceptable debut MG novel. I’m just disappointed because it still feels like it had the potential to be so much more. It also feels like there’s a lot missing in it, and I do wonder if it was heavily edited to bring the wordcount down. If that is the case, it’s a shame, because I’d have liked to have known more about the characters and setting.
Having said all of this, I will be perfectly happy to pick up Sinead O’Hart’s next book, and I look forward to seeing her grow as an author.
The Eye of the North is out in the UK on 8th February, published by Stripes Publishing.
ARC received from the publisher, Stripes Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.