Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review - Dark Storm by Sarah Singleton

Dark Storm

Confession time: this is my first Sarah Singleton book. Every school librarian has failed to read at least one YA author with a good reputation (hey, we can only read so much you know!). Singleton is certainly highly thought of among my school library peers, with a prolific output and a Booktrust Teenage prize under her belt, for 2005's Century. She's predominantly known for dark fantasy works, though a cursory glance at her body of work suggests she dabbles in other genres too.

Dark Storm has strong supernatural elements running through it, but at heart it's a love story. It follows Ellie, grieving from the loss of her mother over a year ago, and angry with her father for falling for a woman not a patch on the woman he loved before. Staying with her grandparents for the summer, she joins a theatre group in a bid to make friends of her own age. It's through the play the group is rehearsing that she also meets Harry, who she falls deeply in love with. Trouble is, Harry is actually dead: he's a ghostly spirit with a dark, complicated background of his own. Ellie can't even touch him. Could they possibly have a future together?

It might seem a bit Twilight-esque, but to compare Dark Storm to Meyer's all conquering trilogy does Singleton a disservice. Her book is deftly plotted and beautifully written. The problem is, it's too beautifully written. Singleton's knows how to weave purple prose, but her lovely descriptions are allowed to meander and eddy on for too long. Just as momentum is being built by Ellie uncovering a layer of intrigue when investigating Harry's story, things are slowed right down by adjective leaden, paragraph long descriptions of the colour of the sky on the horizon, or the front garden of someone's house. This is frustrating and suspense draning, so why hasn't an editor reined in her lovingly constructed but, in terms of plot and character development, irrelevant descriptive prose? 

Bit of a shame really, as talented writers like Singleton do need to be read more by teens saturated with truckloads of terribly written post-Twilight nonsense. Dark Storm is far from being a bad read: Singleton captures the vivid intensity of adolescent love very well, particularly in the shape of unrequited love triangles. The trouble is, this is too long and not what you'd call a page turner, and Singleton overeggs Ellie's introspection to a repetitive, tedious degree. Beautifully written, yes, but a difficult book to recommend to teenagers living in a world of instant gratification distractions.


  1. I was delighted to read your review. A critique that actually highlights the positives and doesn't shy away from pointing out some of the weaknesses. Bravo! What a refreshing change.

  2. Thanks Derek :-) I do these reviews in order to call things as I see them, nothing else. There are some books I've gushed over, admittedly, but those books have deserved it!

  3. Great review. "teens saturated with truckloads of terribly written post-Twilight nonsense." YA is littered with these at the moment, but this year's been a better year for me as a YA reader, as there have been several notable debuts.
    Just this week Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (high fantasy), I was surprised at the style, I thought the highly descriptive style might be off putting to teens, but after reading through other reviews I was happy to find there existed an appreciation for it. The style is as good as Kristin Cashore, I thought, but there's a little less action than the Graceling stories. Equally, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein was one I enjoyed, but I imagined teens would find the setting and feel 'old-fashioned', but clearly I hadn't been giving teens the credit they deserve as discerning readers. There are still a slew of poorly written novels though :'(

  4. Thanks for the heads up on these Katja: I'll have to check them out some time. I think we're perhaps all a bit guilty of underestimating teenagers sometimes: but when you're a school librarian...well, do my job for a week and you'll see why I can be cynical!

    The main issue with 'Dark Storm' is that I, an adult reader, felt like shouting 'get on with it' at the pages on more occasions than I care to remember. It's something that applies to adult fiction as well. There's nothing wrong with the style this book is written in per se: just how in love with it Sarah Singleton herself, and her editor, seems to be.