REVIEW by Maya Wood

NWR Issue 106


by David Thorpe

The premise of Stormteller, the latest novel by writer and environmentalist David Thorpe, is perhaps the best thing about it. Two ancient Welsh legends - the Tale of Taliesin and the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod - are reinvented and entwined with the story of three teenagers in a near-future Ceredigion struck by climate disaster.

The legends are fantastic stories and ones with which I was already familiar, so I was interested to read Thorpe's interpretation of it. The Tale of Taliesin tells the story of the witch Ceridwen and her ugly son Afagddu; in preparing a potion to make him beautiful, the spell goes wrong and enchants her other son, Gwion, instead. In the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, the low-lying city in the area which is now Cardigan Bay, is flooded by seawater one night when everyone is too busy partying to shut the seawall gates. Characters from these two stories are reincarnated in the bodies of our three main characters, Tomos, Bryn and Eira, destined to relive the stories of their ancestors from the legends.

However, a few chapters in I was only wondering how he had managed to take such a compelling idea and turn it into something so utterly dull. Stormteller reads like an unedited first draft. The writing is amateurish, with poor sentence construction ('Their toes played with each other's') and some truly terrible metaphors (a helicopter emerges from a cloud 'like an alien invasion'). Dialogue is grating and unauthentic, supposed 'teen-speak' sounding nothing like any teen I've ever met.

The idea behind the story is great but in writing it becomes tangled and incoherent, with some threads never quite tying up - reaching the end, I was left wondering what the point was of most of the subplots. It is rambling and uneven as well as achingly boring. According to one reviewer whose quote adorns the front cover, Stormteller is 'intriguing and enthralling'. Now I'm not sure if we both read the same book, but personally I was so unintrigued, so non-enthralled, that I struggled to finish the thing.

Perhaps part of my problem lies with the characters, not one of whom could I find remotely sympathetic. Our protagonist Tomos is so belligerently stupid and narrow-minded as to make him entirely unrealistic. Tough-guy Bryn provides endless monologues on sustainable living, but has no personality to speak of. Eira, our token girl, comes across as silly and shallow, pathetically useless and somewhat manipulative. Her only purpose is to tag along after the boys, creating tension between the two as supposedly they are both in love with her (although where this love is supposed to be I'm not quite sure - I certainly couldn't see any). Ultimately the characters are just as forgettable as the story itself, which is already fading from memory despite the fact that I only just finished it. Oh, well.

Reading Stormteller, one gets the impression that Thorpe ought to have written a non-fiction book rather than a novel. There is passage after passage on sustainability, living off the land, climate change and so on, and whilst this is a subject I find interesting, all that these lectures does here is cause the narrative to drag. Thorpe may have wanted to tackle this subject with a novel, but that doesn't necessarily mean it was the best idea. In this case, I can’t help but feel that Thorpe tried too hard to make his book a novel, when perhaps it was supposed to take a different form.

Marketed as a Young Adult/adult crossover novel, I can't really imagine Stormteller appealing to anyone over the age of twelve. It’s too juvenile, too amateur. It had promise, but a novel takes a lot of work and my overriding impression was that it needed rewriting, better editing - that the necessary effort simply hadn’t been invested in it. I felt like Thorpe had published his first draft. Overall, it isn't the worst book I've ever read, but.... Well, to be perfectly honest it comes pretty damn close.

Maya Wood is a teenage book lover and blogger living in Ceredigion.


previous review: British Story: A Romance
next review: Dan y Wenallt


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