Hag Storm is a truly thrilling and superbly spooky historical adventure steeped in folklore, mystery and witchcraft that kept me utterly entranced throughout, reading with bated breath as I lost myself in this richly atmospheric, action-packed and tense story … ideal reading for a dark, cold evening when a scary tale is a perfect choice!
Twelve-year-old Rab spends his days toiling on his family farm rather than going to school with his friends. One day, he is clearing stones from one of the fields when he finds a hag stone, a discovery that changes his life. Looking through the hole at the centre of the stone, he sees a gathering storm, and a stooped and hunched figure in black … Shocked and scared by what he has seen, he throws the stone away, and rushes home, only to have his path blocked by an old woman dressed in black: his mother’s cousin, Betty.
When Rab is tasked with going to their Landlord’s house in Doonholm to beg the factor who manages the estate for extra time to pay their rent, he meets the new scullery maid, Morven who offers him kindness, and tells him that there are rumours of witchcraft relating to Cousin Betty. Not willing to believe that these could be true, Rab visits her to warn her of the rumours, but is shocked by what he sees …
Rab thinks he has rid himself of the hag stone, but it has other intentions, and he once again finds it, and this time when he looks through it, he sees witches on broomsticks. Could Cousin Betty’s tales of witchcraft be true? Could the witches be preparing to gather at the old kirkyard for All Hallows Eve, and have they set their sights on his sisters? Will Rab be able to save his sisters from the threat of the coven, or will he inadvertently lead them into danger?
There is a real sense of foreboding as this deliciously dark tale unfolds which is perfectly portrayed through the tense atmosphere, the approaching storm, and Rab’s ominous sightings through the hag stone which brings the supernatural into his reality. I really enjoyed the way the danger for the family builds surely but slowly with sublime apprehension; the portrayal of the power struggle at the heart of the story and the effects of this on the Burns family; and, Rab’s growing courage and dreadful realisation as he faces his fears in order to save his sisters.
I really liked the depiction of the relationships within the Burns family who, despite the hardships of life on the farm, are a close-knit and loving family. Rab is keen to protect his younger brother, Gil, from the hardest work on the farm – their relationship is playful and teasing. He looks out for his youngest siblings, often allowing them to take his food. But I found his relationship with his sister Agnes the most interesting, and it made me think of my own sibling relationships. Rab comes from a large family of siblings as do I. He is the oldest of the boys, and his sister Agnes is the oldest of the girls. He expects more of his sister as more is expected of him, both of himself and by his father. I grew up on a working farm with three older brothers, and two younger sisters. I can definitely see expectations on older male and female siblings being different to that of younger siblings. Rab is sometimes hard on Agnes, but also feels the weight of guilt with how he sometimes treats her; however, when she is threatened, he shows the depth of his love for her.
The Rab Burns in this brilliant adventure is none other than Scotland’s much-loved poet, Robert Burns, and I really enjoyed the historical context that this gave the story. The supernatural element references one of his most famous poems, Tam O’Shanter and, having read the poem before reading the story, I loved how aspects of the poem are so cleverly interwoven into the narrative.
Hag Storm is an exceptional historical supernatural mystery, a story of the strength of familial bonds, of struggle and survival in hard times, and of dark powers determined to tear those bonds apart. I cannot recommend this highly enough … absolutely incredible!
Thank you so much to Anne Glennie and Cranachan Publishing for inviting me to be part of this Blog Tour, and for providing me with an early copy of Hag Storm in return for my honest opinion.
Please do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour for this brilliant book!