This should be and was intended to be a review of the most recent (and final 😭) book in Sarah Driver’s Huntress Trilogy: Storm (kindly sent to me by Egmont, thank you). However, as it’s the last book in the trilogy, I’m finding it impossible to limit myself to review of that book without touching on the other books too, so it’s a review of the series as a whole, but weighted towards Storm.
I read Sea in March 2017 when it was first released. In the same month, I read Kiran Milwood Hargrave’s ‘Girl of Ink and Stars‘ and Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials‘. It was a time of uncertainty at work, though I was just about on the up again after what had been a horrible, anxiety filled year. My scrapbook/journal/call-it-what-you-will entry on finishing all three books simply reads:
“THINK LYRA. AND ISABELLA. AND MOUSE.”
Heart-strong, battle-ready and fierce with determination and loyalty, Mouse is one of those characters who I instantly loved and believed in. I’ve said it before and will no doubt bang on about it again, but my favourite characters are those who aren’t perfect and who feel ‘real’ and Mouse definitely ticks those boxes.
When we meet her in ‘Sea’, she is an all-too recognisable impulsive, opinionated and fiery girl who is desperate to grow up and follow in her Grandma’s footsteps as Captain of The Huntress. When we reach her adventures in ‘Storm’, she’s retained the very essence of what makes her ‘her’ and what makes her so endearing as a character (the book opens with her tired of being cooped up for protection and yearning to rove and continue on her quest, and we still see her make some questionable decisions putting herself in danger in order to defy the adults who think they know best) but she has learned a lot and grown too – more open to others (and their help) and finally recognising that being a Captain is about more than giving orders. It’s been such a well-written, realistic and subtle change over the books and lovely to see.
Similarly, her relationship with her brother, Sparrow, hits the nail on the siblings head. There’s a great post here from Sarah Driver about siblings in stories and writing Sparrow and Mouse in which she talks about the importance of not “sugar-coating their reality, with all the tears, frustration, jealousy and fighting that are often part of the deal, despite the strength of the bond and the foundations of love underneath.” And this comes across so strongly with Mouse (“stinker”, “fool-heart”) and Sparrow (“too-soon”, “slackwit”) and their devotion to and protection of each other, despite their bickering and chalk-and-cheese nature.
And this is without mentioning the many other wonderful characters and relationships we encounter throughout the books (Grandma Wren, Crow, Kes and Egret, Bear, The Skybrarian – oh, how much I love the Skybrary and Skybrarian! – …even the despicable Stag) – a great and true mixture of personalities, talents, traits and flaws, all of which make for a fantastic cast and a story that’s never dull and full of challenges, excitement and empathy.
The two other things I absolutely loved about these books was the world-building and the language.
There are many comparisons to Pullman in other reviews, and I think it’s the sheer imagination shown in the creatures and worlds created here that do that. The word-choice, phrasing and vocabulary is a delight, reading as a language unique to the world(s) the stories are set in, which is wonderfully immersive and exciting.
With the exception of Sea, which takes a bit more time to set a fantastically sea-salty scene, the description is often fast, brief and vivid as we often see it through Mouse’s racing mind as she’s in the thick of a chase/fight/escape. I found this added to the excitement and tangibility of the stories, though some younger readers may find it harder to take in (Though, I think for the younger MG age-range particularly, this would be a fantastic story to read aloud together, it reads like a story that begs to be spoken and shared).
The adventures throughout the trilogy take us through a myriad of places, where we meet a whole host of tribes and creatures: easy to identify with and liken to those which may be familiar to us, but different enough to be fantasy places, people and animals; from pirate-esque life at sea to tree-top dwellings to frozen wastelands (sorry, Axe-Thrower) to rumbling, smog-filled city life (which to me, at least, had something of Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork about it) these books really do take you on a fantastic journey around ‘a’ world.
And so, to the story itself (after all that!) Over the course of the three books, we see Mouse (and Sparrow, and Crow…) hunting for the three Storm Opals (one each for Sea, Sky and Land) to keep them out of evil hands and restore peace and harmony to the Triannukka tribes.
Storm sees us in the latter stages of this hunt, and while I loved it, I can’t help but wonder whether it might have worked better either as a longer book, or as two books – one in the hunt for the Land Opal and one ‘grand finale’ so to speak. While it had the fantastic worlds, perilous adventures and diverse characters of the first, it felt rather rushed at times: like we didn’t have chance to settle into any of them before being whisked elsewhere. Personally, I’d have preferred more time spent on the journey to and time in the ‘Frozen Wastes’ in this one, with more time to explore the ‘Big Smoke’ and reach a less-hurried conclusion in a follow-up.
Similarly, there were times when Mouse’s behaviour just didn’t sit right (despite her growing up some): she spends a good part of the first half of the book being entirely distrustful of a particular character, which feels like the Mouse we know…only to jump head-first into telling her story and trusting a pretty unknown character in the second half, which just felt ‘un-Mousey’. More time for this relationship to build and develop gradually might have made this leap of faith more convincing.
However, those minor sticking points don’t mean it wasn’t still a fantastic book (I think I just preferred the first two)! This is still a thrilling, highly original and captivating adventure, filled with incredible lands, imagination (the Spiders in the city – what genius!) and hugely engaging characters. I am already looking forward to re-reading the trilogy as a whole (rather than with the gaps of waiting for the next installment!) as I think it will be even more enjoyable read like this, and can’t wait to see what Sarah Driver brings us next.