I was very kindly invited by Arachne Press to join the book tour for Zed and the Cormorants, a haunting young adult debut novel from Clare Owen.
Our main character Zed has just moved from London to a remote farmhouse in Cornwall, with her family. They’ve moved to keep Zed’s sister, Amy, away from her boyfriend and to help their Mum with her depression but nobody asked Zed if she wanted to go. And now, after opening the boathouse which has been sealed for seventy years, Zed has encountered the local cormorants which fill her with dread.
The book explores themes of folklore, family, mental health and the environment, balancing between a real and magical world.
In just over 180 pages, Claire Owen has crafted a deep and haunting story which covers a range of important topics.
Our main character Zed is quite a young storyteller however, her worries about loosing and making friends, the subtext to family conversations she misses and her independence helped me to connect with her. It was really interesting seeing Zed’s way of thinking and how she processes the traumatic experiences she has had in her past. There are also subtle hints throughout to how she is questioning her own identity. I did find that sometimes the story jumped around a little with large pieces of the day missing which did disorientate me a little however it built on the picture I had of a young girl who is constantly active with lots of worries.
One of the unique aspects of the book is the use of Cormorants as a central character and storytelling aspect. Cormorants are very dark, sleek birds which really worked to create tension and a haunting feeling. At times the book did get quite gory when discussing the Cormorants, adding to the uncomfortable feeling I had anytime the birds appeared in the story. They are used as a device to add an element of horror, introduce Cornish folklore and promote discussions of environmentalism. I really enjoyed how their character wove through the main plot. They were frequently used as a way to link the magical elements to the more real aspects of the story.
Zed’s family featured as strong side characters throughout the book, each with their own challenges and story arc. Amy, Zed’s older sister, was particularly interesting and their sibling relationship felt relatable, a mixture of tolerance and annoyance but always trusting. As is so often seen in young adult books, the parents tended to be in the background, allowing Zed to go on long bike rides and canoe trips in a new place. Whilst those aspects felt unrealistic I did like that both parents still played key roles throughout the story.
As important as the characters are, I think that a book focusing so strongly on folklore should be able to accurately describe and build the environment featured. That is one of my favourite parts of the book, the connection to Cornwall was felt in both the rural and town scenes. I particularly enjoyed that a community of characters and associated locations was also included as that felt close to my own experiences of rural village life.
Overall I would recommend this book if you are after a hunting, folklore driven, magical-realism read. Whilst it is a young adult read, I did still enjoy it as an adult and it was a good weekend read.
Content Warnings: Depression, Animal Death (and some minor gore), Miscarriage, Suicide, Mental Illness
Zed and The Cormorants is available now as a paperback from Arachne Press here. You can find the list of other participants on the blog tour below:
I would like to thank both Arachne Press and Clare Owen for the gifted copy of the book.