Let me say this at the start...I’m a massive fan of Emma Carroll books. So much so that I find them impossible to put down and always end up finishing them way too quickly. Naturally, I had high hopes for another cracking historical adventure and The Somerset Tsunami does not disappoint. Carroll is the go to author when you need a fix of middle-grade historical fiction and in The Somerset Tsunami she brings her home county to life in a glorious tale of survival against extreme floods, superstitions and witchcraft. The story is centred around the real life flooding event that occurred in 1607 that swamped the coastline counties of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Devon and South Wales. What was originally assumed to be a flood is now believed to have been a tsunami. The book itself is moved forward a few years to 1616 and is a fast-paced, thrilling adventure that combines an exciting story with local history.
Welcome to Fair Maidens Lane, very much true to its name it is home to many a maiden. It is a place where women and girls live well and are more than capable of looking after themselves. But a thriving community of women draws attention, and not of the good kind. Change is in the air. Men are wary of women who thrive by themselves and fears of witchcraft are spreading like a fever. Suspicion is breeding across the land from King James’ obsession with witches and witchcraft, and witch trials are rife throughout the country.
Fortune Sharpe isn’t one for fitting in yet now is not the time for a young girl to be standing out. So when she gets herself noticed for the wrong reasons she is hastily sent away to the hiring fair to find work disguised as a boy. Fortunately, the owner of a well-to-do manor house is hiring. But all is not well at Berrow Hall - everyone is hiding secrets and rather than escaping the witch-hunting villains Fortune finds herself working for a man who blames witchcraft for the death of his wife and if she isn’t careful she might find herself in the clutches of the very people she has been sent away to avoid.
Emma Carroll’s writing has the knack of bringing alive a specific time in history and really immersing the reader in the period with her beautiful and atmospheric prose. I admire her skill for being able to turn historical events into enthralling reads for children (and adults).
The characters in The Somerset Tsunami are great - there are ones you’ll love, ones you’ll hate and ones that you’ll need to be wary of. I love Fortune Sharpe, a feisty and fearless heroine who in wanting to remain true to herself must battle the views of those at the very highest levels of power. What starts off as innocent fun quickly becomes a life or death situation and I really enjoyed her growth from noisy, reckless and mischievous teenager to responsible decision maker. In Dr. Blood, Carroll has created a truly terrifying villain whose name is a perfect embodiment of his character.
Whilst the book is set over four hundred years ago many of the messages and issues are still relevant to today. The ease with which hatred and fear is spread by just a few simple words is frightening and is an important lesson for readers of any age. The book challenges gender stereotypes and has strong messages about not fitting in, being different and standing out from the crowd. Even at a time when you were expected to abide by the rules and ‘fit in’ Carroll shows the strength of the human spirit and the importance of being who you want to be.
Carroll is one of the leading writers of middle-grade fiction and rightfully remains on her throne as the “Queen of Historical Fiction”. This is one tsunami that is definitely worth getting swept away in. A read suited to 10+.