The La’lun by J N Harris

The Blurb On The Back:

Every family has a secret – this one is the last of its kind.

When Camille discovers the secret her grandmother has protected for decades, she knows that to tell anyone would be to tell everyone – with terrible consequences.

But it could also bring the rest of her family back into her life. 

This is a story about love and loyalty, truth and lies.  Real news, fake news and how far you’d go to protect what you love.

It’s a story for now with its roots in ancient folklore. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

15-year-old Camille doesn’t particularly like the Catholic boarding school that her parents have packed her off to, but that doesn’t make it any better when she’s summoned to the head mistress’s office and told that they’re chucking her out with immediate effect because her dad hasn’t paid the fees for months.  Even worse, both her parents seem to have disappeared and her dad apparently owes a lot of people a lot of money.

Camille is packed off to stay with her stern grandmother, Joan, and Joan’s partner, Frank in the Lake District.  Known locally as the Godmother, Joan has a fearsome reputation a number of rules that Camille must comply with – one of which is that Camille must not take a boat – any boat – out to the lake near Joan’s house or visit the island in the middle of it.

Slowly though, Camille finds herself enjoying the Lake District’s countryside and even makes friends with 16-year-old Goth Sarah and her older brother, Duncan (a trainee journalist).  But when she thinks she sees something out on the island, and Duncan persuades her that they should investigate, Camille uncovers a secret that Joan and Frank have been keeping – one that could change her life completely …

J N Harris’s YA novel with a paranormal twist has an engaging main character, I enjoyed Camille’s relationship with her grandmother while the elements incorporated from Welsh folklore are intriguing but the plot meanders, the missing father storyline is a little silly and Duncan and Sarah solely exist to serve the plot – such that while it’s an okay read, I think it would be of more interest to tweens than teens.

I liked Camille as a main character.  Harris gives her a conversational narrative voice and her asides to the reader are neatly done and raised a smile.  I especially liked her relationship with the severe, no-nonsense Joan who comes across well on the page – firm and taking no prisoners, I thought Harris did well with her characterisation and the dialogue between them. Sarah and Duncan were more thinly characterised – Duncan in particular being a bit of a stereotype journalist in training and his confrontation with Camille towards the end of the book did not ring true in the least (not least his claims to be able to sell a story for a million pounds).

Also interesting is the incorporation of the La’lun itself (la’lun being a Lake District term for ‘small one’), which takes the Welsh folklore concept of the Afanc (something I had not come across before). Unfortunately the book doesn’t really do anything with it – the La’lun is a bit of a passive beast once the mystery about it is resolved and to be honest, it could have been anything – not least because Harris’s writing lacks precision in terms of its description.

Similarly, the storyline involving Camille’s missing father starts off with a lot of intrigue, but doesn’t really go anywhere with Harris adapting it to give Camille a (weakly written) moment towards the end of the book where she’s forced to make a choice even though her decision is never in doubt.  To be honest, I thought that the father storyline really wasn’t needed – it didn’t do anything to add to Camille’s character or the main plot – and the resolution is downright silly and unbelievable.

The pacing is a little uneven – there’s a lot of build-up in the first quarter, which makes it a little slow, but the end is rushed and a little confusing at points.  Ultimately, I thought this was a perfectly okay book but the nature of the story (and especially the custodianship angle) means that it may appeal more to tweens that teens.

THE LA’LUN was released in the United Kingdom on 10th October 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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