The Coming Storm, Regina M. Hansen (Atheneum 978-1-5344-8244-9, $17.99, 272pp, hc) June 2021. Cover by Tran Nguyen.
Regina Hansen’s darkly charming novel, The Coming Storm, is a historic fantasy heavily steeped in folklore and place. Set in 1949 among the Scottish-Canadian community of Prince Edward Island, it tells a story of mythological monsters and music that calls to mind stories like Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, albeit for adventure and drama with enormously high stakes, but provides relief for those readers looking for a break from the heavy romance often found in YA fiction. What they will find instead is complex characters, a truly malevolent villain, and a narrative that draws heavily on its seaside location and the surrounding community’s strong culture of music.
Beatrice “Beet” MacNeill loves her family and playing the fiddle. Her patient father and smart, demanding mother provide a stable home life that also includes her cousin Gerry’s heavily pregnant girlfriend. Gerry is more like a brother to Beet than cousin, as his widowed mother Sarah Campbell, an exceedingly unpleasant person, often left him with the family when he was growing up. Now Gerry is off with two friends “for the Boston States to fish cod off one of those Georges Bank trawlers,” and Deirdre is about to give birth to their son. As the baby makes his way into the world, Beet is stunned to see Gerry suddenly appear, dripping wet, near their home while playing a mournful tune on his fiddle. She knows immediately what has happened. Gerry and his friends are dead.
Despite the presence of ghosts, The Coming Storm is not really a ghost story. Gerry’s “visit” is a secret Beet keeps to spare Deirdre’s feelings, especially after the town receives confirmation that all three of the young fishermen are dead. But she can’t ignore the powerful certainty that her cousin came to her for a reason, and when his mother exhibits a strange reaction to baby Joseph, Beet’s concern intensifies. Then Sarah Campbell dies, and her previously unknown niece arrives to live in her home. That’s when Beet gets really worried because this woman is like no one she has ever met before and she wants Joseph. Badly.
Fortunately, Beet is not alone in her suspicions about the disturbing Marina Shaw and, along with her best friend Jeannine, who is obsessed with the paranormal, the town’s cryptic librarian Lily Soloman, Lily’s stalwart nephew Freddy, and Sean MacInnes who is visiting relatives for the summer, Beet sets out to discover just what Shaw wants with the baby. The mystery gets complicated by the presence of a strange man who seems to work for Shaw but is also mesmerized by Beet’s fiddle playing. Then there is the moment she thinks she sees that fellow drown in a pond, but is startled when a monstrous waterhorse erupts from the water in his stead. Is it wrong to think nefarious things about Marina Shaw? Could her companion being something other than a man? And what really happened to Sarah Campbell’s long dead husband Angus? Or Gerry? Did they just drown, or were they “helped” in dying below the waves?
Hansen has a lot of fun taking readers along as Beet, and the thoroughly delightful Jeannine, work to uncover what is going on. There are historic passages along the way offering clues (including from Angus Campbell and a much younger Lily Soloman), and the patient way the eclectic group works to understand what is going on (while thankfully not wasting time thinking it’s all in their heads), makes for a solid mystery. The Coming Storm is one of those books that conjures up the past extremely well, and Hansen’s sense of place and time is particularly outstanding. She takes a small happening, a bit of suspicion and hint of malevolence, and creates something quietly extraordinary. It’s a solid reminder that it doesn’t take a lot of action to create something quietly wonderful.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the August 2021 issue of Locus.
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