Reader Reviewed The Black North by Nigel McDowell

The Black North

Written by Nigel McDowell

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The Lovereading4Kids comment

Chock full of mysticism and dark magic this enchanting new fantasy set in The Divided Isle, once a place of peace and tranquillity, that has been ravaged by war is based on Irish legends and mythology is completely compelling as it takes you on a journey that will surprise you with its twists and turns and breathtaking pace. From the author of Tall Tales from Pitch End.

A Piece of Passion from Naomi Colthurst, Assistant Editor I fell in love with Nigel's writing the first time I read Tall Tales from Pitch End. Whilst being swept away to dark, complicated land full of very fragile and human characters, I knew we had discovered an amazing new voice and talent in teen fiction. And reading The Black North has only confirmed that opinion for me. This is a book where you can see an author having grown in confidence and experience - Nigel tells a brilliantly complex tale in the simplest and most meaningful of ways, and it is a pure joy from start to finish. This is only Nigel's second book, and I simply can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Reader Reviews

Kids love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

  • Susanna Wagstaff, age 11 - 'An original book, with many twists and turns in the confusing, but interesting plot, full of magic and unimaginable things, which draw you in and make you feel like you never want to put it down!' Read full review >
  • Jack Wilson, age 11 - 'Gripping and intriguing.' Read full review >
  • Beth Honeyman, age 11 - 'The Black North is a fantastic book. I loved it from the moment I picked it up. A fast paced adventure, amazing.' Read full review >
  • Izzy Read, age 13 - 'This was a breath-taking and charismatic book that had me gripped from the start...This book is a rollercoaster of an unexpected journey to mystical and magical places.' Read full review >
  • Alice East, age 9 - 'I thought was a very exciting book with lots of magic and monsters.  This book is about a girl who has to take a precious stone and destroy it before it falls into the hands of the evil king!' Read full review >
  • Finn Morris, age 12 - 'I give this book  8.5/10, it was a very good book but it had too little action for me.' Read full review >

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The Black North by Nigel McDowell

Twins Oona and Morris live with their grandmother in a stone cottage in the quiet southern county of Drumbroken, but the threat of the Invaders of the Black North - the ravaged northern part of the island - is coming ever closer. When Morris, fighting against the Invaders, is kidnapped by one of the evil Briar Witches, Oona must journey to the unknown realms of the Black North in search of her brother. She is accompanied only by Merrigutt, a jackdaw with mysterious transformative powers, and a treasured secret possession: a small stone in the shape of a plum, but a stone that reveals truths and nightmares, and which the Invaders and their ruler, the King of the North, seek more than anything. Oona must keep the stone safe at all costs, and find her brother, before the King of the North extends his evil hold over the whole island and destroys it forever.


Praise for Tall Tales from Pitch End

A unique creation ... a gripping fantasy adventure that's very difficult to put down. The

About the Author

Nigel McDowell

Nigel grew up in County Fermanagh, rural Northern Ireland, and as a child spent most of his time battling boredom, looking for adventure - crawling through ditches, climbing trees, devising games to play with his brother and sister, and reading. His favourite book as a child was The Witches by Roald Dahl.

After graduating with a degree in English he spent almost two years living and working in Australia and New Zealand. With him he took a small notebook containing notes about a boy called "Bruno Atlas", and a seaside town called "Pitch End". When he returned to Ireland after his travels, one notebook had multiplied into many, and eventually his notes for Tall Tales from Pitch End filled a large cardboard box... Tall Tales from Pitch End was Nigel's first novel, followed up by The Black North.

Nigel died in 2016, aged thirty-four, and his final novel, The House of Mountfathom, will be published by Hot Key Books in 2017.

Q & A with Nigel

What inspires your writing? Difficult question to answer - I’m not sure there is such a thing as “inspiration”. Writing feels closer to something I must do, rather than something I feel inspired to do. And it’s hard work. Though when I find it difficult to write, what keeps me going is the work of great writers. Seeing what can be achieved with smart storytelling, language that makes me see the world anew, and being swept away by an author’s imagination - that’s what makes me pick up the pen again and persist. Perhaps that’s where “inspiration” comes into things - finding something to aim for, wanting to do better, and sticking at it!

What has been the most exciting moment of your career so far? Honestly, every single step of the publication process has been something to be excited about - receiving such wonderful editorial feedback, seeing the progression of the stunning cover art, receiving the first proofs...all these things and countless others are memories I’ll always treasure. Chief of all though was being accepted by Hot Key Books for publication, and being able to share such news with my partner, family and friends - the best moment, the best day.

How did you first become an author & What was your earliest career aspiration? Sounds so very corny and precocious, but since childhood I wanted to be a writer; since I knew that books were written and didn’t just appear. I can remember being eight and completing a project in Primary School to investigate which famous people we shared birthdays with. As soon as I discovered that Charles Dickens was also born on the seventh of February, that was it: ‘My name is Nigel, and when I grow up I want to be an author.’

What are you reading right now? I tend always to have a few too many books on the go at once - so at the moment (for the commute) I haveThe Story of the Night by Colm Toibin, and for these cold winter nights I love a good ghost story, so on the bedside I have Dolly by Susan Hill. Another love: the ever-present totter of books on fairytale and folklore, including Angela Carter’s Burning Your Boats and WB Yeats’ collection, Fairy & Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry - both invaluable to me, never failing to inspire!

What advice would you give to budding writers? Read as much and as widely as you possibly can - anything at all, forgetting things like genre or age-range, and whether best-seller or obscure translation, just read. Live and experience as much as you can...and finally, write. Write only what you want. What you can write and what you need to write. And keep at it!

What was your favourite childhood book? The Witches by Roald Dahl. I loved my copy to tatters and - very shameful admission coming up - I used write my own stories inside the book, in blue biro, between the lines of print. I loved opening the book and seeing something I’d made up flowing alongside Roald Dahl’s words, my stories tucked close to his. (Though I of course do not condone book vandalism of any kind).

Where is your favourite place to write? On (or in) bed. I can’t do desks.

How do you read - print, digitally or both? I swore I’d never want to read a book except in print, then I won a Kindle in a raffle and had no choice, and then discovered I loved reading on it! Then it got stolen, so now I’m back to print...until I buy another Kindle.

Who do you most admire? My partner, a Zoologist, who encourages me to look more closely and carefully at this world; who finds perfect beauty in all things plant and animal, and who perseveres tirelessly in trying to enthuse me about it all.

Are there any books you wish you had written? Not really - the books I love most are books I could never, ever have written, like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, or John McGahern’s The Dark. Though there are individual ideas I wish I’d come up with: the alethiometer in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; the subtle knife in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy; the whole concept of “demons” in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy...okay, perhaps I wish I’d written His Dark Materials.

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Book Info


432 pages
Interest Age: From 13 to 15 years


Nigel McDowell
More books by Nigel McDowell

Author's Website


Hot Key Books

Publication date

5th June 2014




Publisher Profile

Hot Key Books is an imprint of Hot Key

logo Hot Key Books, a division of Bonnier Publishing, publish stand out, quality fiction, for 9 – 19 year olds, print and digital that people like to talk about. If you are looking for something a little bit different from your books, something a little bit special then Hot Key Books may well have just what you want.

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