A book that I've read recently is Jenny Nimmo's Ultramarine. Jenny Nimmo is a British author of some note who writes young adult fantasies. Her works have won such prestigious awards as the Smarties Book Prize, and some have been adapted for television, but Ms. Nimmo and her books are virtually unknown here in North America, and that's a shame.
I remember being enchanted by her Snow Spider trilogy. Her strong ability to mix magic, legend and British children makes for wonderful reading, and her low key approach makes discovering her books akin to finding a dusty classic in a forgotten shop of a secluded used bookstore. Jenny Nimmo is not J.K. Rowling or Philip Pullman, and as a result of having to work harder in order to find her, the connection I felt to her work was stronger and more personal.
Ultramarine features brother and sister Ned and Nell McQueen (11 and 8 respectively) living in an old house on the coastal cliffs of Wales with their widowed mother. Ned feels comforted by the sea, but for Nell, the sea's comfort goes deeper -- she can hear the sea's footsteps, especially when she stands in Ned's shadow, she says. Uncannily, Ned has vague memories of a time when he was was thrown into the sea, and then bouyed by the waves and dropped safely ashore. Then his mother remarries and, while on her honeymoon, Ned and Nell are introduced to their grandmother, who has been made bitter and crazy due to losing too many of her loved ones to the sea. Ned and Nell, in her opinion, are the children of a Kelpie, who stole her own daughter, Ultramarine. Their aunt Rhoda is also there, trying desperately to control her mother's fits, and a mysterious man named Arion completes the mix. Arion literally walks out of the waves during a huge storm, and brings the sea with him into Ned and Nell's home. Is he the Kelpie? Is he something more?
It has to be said that Ultramarine is not Jenny Nimmo's best work. Jenny's flare for language and dialogue, as seen in such works as The Chestnut Soldier and The Rinaldi Ring deserts her here. Imagery is presented clumsily, and the story's ecological message is driven home with a brick, such that I have to wonder if we're seeing a much younger author at work (the publication dates suggest that this was written after The Snow Spider, but perhaps this Ultramarine was written earlier and published later).
But the story of Ultramarine still proves to be powerful and moving. As Ned and Nell's true past becomes clear, and the relationships work themselves out, we get the full feel of the tragedy that brought all these characters together. We feel as overwhelmed as Ned does to discover his true nature, and we are in awe of Arion, who is truly larger than life. The imagery may be clumsily delivered, but it's still strong imagery, that helps to make the sea itself a character in this book. In short, it has a touch of Jenny Nimmo's magic, and it is a worthy addition to any young adult fantasy library that already contains The Snow Spider, Emlyn's Moon and The Chestnut Soldier.