Reviews /

The Billow Maiden

Authored by James Dixon
Illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell
Published by Guppy Books

Tagged , , , , , , ,

This is a powerful and heart-warming story about love, friendship, and the power women and girls have to retell stories, to set things right, and to reclaim their voices.

Ailsa’s Uncle Nod rescues her and her mother from the mainland, where Ailsa’s mother has taken to her bed as she has lost her song and is drowning in unhappiness. After the ‘bump and rock of the boat’ and the sea which ‘always made her smile’ Ailsa arrives at the cottage on the island, and, safe in the knowledge that ‘Uncle Nod and Aunt Bertha would take care of things’ she, along with Moxie the dog, is free to explore the beaches and caves.

On her adventures Ailsa discovers two important, sisters, of a sort. The first is a ‘strange woman’ in a cave who is covered in ‘wet greenery and a few dead shells’ who looks as though ‘the sea had spat her up and forgotten about her’ – this mythical figure can barely speak and in a neat parallel with Ailsa’s mother, has given up. The second, is Camilla, a girl who on the surface has everything, she lives in a gated mansion on the island, but her family are the Galachs, who Uncle Nod and later Camilla herself, describe as ‘gangsters’ who are hated by the islanders. All three female figures share sadness, but in coming together, unravelling the mysteries and putting injustices right, the story celebrates the power of friendship, and reminds readers that the struggles, particularly women have, to have their true stories told, to sing their own songs, is timeless.

In many ways this is a story to escape into. The girls live in modern times, and yet, they turn to the dusty Nordic myth books in the attic rather than Google, they arrange times to meet, rather than text, and they lose themselves in the power of the environment as they listen to the wind, rain and sea. When Camilla takes refuge at Ailsa’s cottage from her parents’ arguing, she observes, after an evening playing cards, ‘This house though […] it’s warm, it’s comfortable and cosy, it’s full of love.’ The tale is a page turner, it reminds readers that the environment and the stories of old – the myths, are always relevant, always there, and it would make an excellent, individual, or better still class read. Brimming with possibilities and more stories to explore – readers might like to further research Hefring and the Selkies, might consider how the characters find and use their voices, and will certainly enjoy a few hours escaping to this island where the wind, sea and Goddesses still reign. Enjoy!