I was captivated by the idea of Stormswept by Helen Dunmore when it was published earlier this month. Although Stormswept is the first in a new series of Ingo Chronicles I quickly decided that I could not read it until I had first taken a look at the preceding Ingo set of novels by Helen. I had no idea that these four novels – Ingo, The Tide Knot, The Deep and The Crossing Of Ingo – would enchant me to such an extent that I read the series in a week, with the majority taking only a day to complete. The novels are aimed at Young Adults but if there is a little bit of you that imagines a world beneath the waves, populated by Mer men and women, whales that understand the deepest mysteries of the oceans, dolphins with intellect and spirit enough to play, and the mysteries and dangers that mark the crossing of childhood into adulthood, then the Ingo series will not fail you, no matter your age.
The four novels are set at the point where Cornwall meets Ingo, the world of the Mer. Sapphire and her brother Conor live next to the sea, above the rocks which hide a difficult trail to the tide waters. Their mother is afraid of the power of the ocean but their father Matthew is drawn to it. Early in Ingo, the first of the series, Matthew disappears at sea, leaving his wife to move on with her life while her children keep watch. Sapphire is called by the sea. The waves sing to her. One day, Sapphire meets a boy in their cove who looks as if he is wearing half a wetsuit. But when she draws closer she sees a seal’s tail. This is Faro, a Mer boy, whose sister Elvira has befriended Conor. From the moment that Sapphire is taught by Faro to push through the water’s seal, take the first painful breath of oxygen from liquid, she half belongs to Ingo. Conor is not far behind.
Through the four novels we follow Sapphire, Conor, Faro and Elvira on a series of adventures and quests as Mer and human learn to understand one another. Just as humans have little control over the land, the Mer do not rule the depths of the sea, and in the course of the books we see the tide knot unravel, unleashing the sea onto the land, and the ocean’s monster, the Kraken, awake. We follow the young Mer and humans on their dangerous journey across the world and we witness the battle between the old and the new. In this time where the seas claim land and humans destroy sea life, the answer may lie in the balance of Mer and human in one person. Not all Mer like this idea and so Ingo is not only beautiful it is also a dangerous place for Sapphire and Conor.
The Ingo novels are beautifully written by Helen Dunmore. A deep love of the stunning Cornish countryside is matched by a wonder at the mysteries of the sea. Aside from the human and Mer characters, life is breathed into dolphins and whales, even sharks, those loyal bruisers and bodyguards of the depths. It’s very difficult not to be moved by ‘dear whale’, the mighty sperm whale that dives so deep, misses her daughter on the other side of the world, tells jokes that aren’t funny, and envies dolphins for being able to play. I’m not ashamed to say that at one point in the series of Ingo novels, the whales reduced me to tears.
The wonders of the sea world are matched by the mysteries of land. While Saldowr, Faro’s tutor, controls the tides, Granny Carne can control the bees and her ancient presence signifies the power of the earth. The pull of both is strong.
Our young heroine, Sapphire, is 11 years old as the novels begin and she has just lost her dearly loved father. She has a vulnerability, then, that doesn’t leave her through the four books. The mystery of what happened to Sapphire’s father, having to deal with her mother’s new relationship with the interloper Roger, coping with the call of the sea, her attachment to her landbound dog and her Cornish friends, her rivalry with Conor, makes for a fascinating and very moving tale of a young girl leaving her childhood behind. Sapphire does irritate on occasion, as does Faro, the Mer boy who has his own issues, but it’s hardly surprising.
Helen Dumore depicts the pull and wonder of the sea (not to mention gorgeous Cornwall) so perfectly that it’s quite likely that, like me, once you’ve read the first, Ingo, you’ll head back to the shops and buy the other three in bulk. Now I am very ready to read Stormswept and welcome in the new series.