Hannah Sullivan’s first Thunder novel, Thunder: The Shadows are Stirring, takes her readers into a strange new world of good and evil, steeped in magic and powers humans are generally not exposed to otherwise. Geared towards a young adult audience, Sullivan’s story echoes tales of Narnia, and at times seems to reference Susan Cooper’s world from her well-known The Dark Is Rising series. Certainly anyone who has read and enjoyed the Narnia books, Rick Riordan’s Olympians series, or Cooper’s Dark Is Rising series will be at home in Sullivan’s world. At the same time, the rules, the history, and the magic of Sullivan’s world make hers different enough to not simply be copying from these established fantasy series.
Sullivan’s main characters, Olivia and her brothers Sam and Jamie, are thrown into an adventure that in a way may have already cost them their lives, at least in the sense of tearing them from their lives, and they must learn fast in their new world if they are to survive long enough to rebuild their lives in their new world. While some of their tasks seem a bit contrived, and I am still not sure what system of accontancy makes Sullivan’s world fully permeable only to humans under the age of 18. As a rule that explains why these three children must save the world, rather than older, better trained people, it works, but as a reader over the age of 18 I was not all that convinced. Still, it worked.
What did NOT work was the overall structure of the book. I found the first person, present tense narration uncomfortable and awkward from the very beginning, even before Sullivan began switching to different characters’ points of view. Her story certainly seemed to ba attempting to appeal to both male and female readers by not just telling the story from Olivia’s perspective, but it felt very artificial. I think more than the multiple narrators and first-person story-telling, though, I found it impossible to ingore the fact that I never did know where I, the reader, fit in. Often in first-person narration the stage is set from the beginning that the reader is being told a story within a particular context (reading diary fragments, a trek-report, etc., or being told the story around a campfire or something). This never happened in Sullivan’s book.
And, since the story was being told in present tense, but with too much explanation to be realistically placing the reader IN the character, seeing everything through that character, it was impossible to comfortably situate myself with respect to the narrator. It’s a seemingly monir grievance, except that it really made getting into this book impossible. The characters were fine, the story was fine, but the narration and lack of context for the reader created a serious barrier to enjoying this book, one that the excellent fantasy world and decent characterization never quite made up for. A reader who is just skimming this book quickly might not be so annoyed, but I suspect even the most casual reader will feel a strange sort of distancing and awkwardness from these basic structural problems.
Overall, then, while I saw a lot I liked about this book, I honestly did not enjoy it enough to give it more than 3 stars. In fact I nearly gave up on it entirely, but I did like the world Sullivan created, enough to at least want to finish the book. This was a book that ought to have been a fairly quick read, but that took forever to finish because it was so hard to become immersed in the story as it was constructed. I might want to read the next book Sullivan writes in this fantasy world, and I think there should be a series of books built up following this book, but I doubt I would wish to read the whole series if it is all constructed entirely in first-person, present tense, contextless narrative.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.