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Review: SeaWAR; Sarah Holding

SeaWAR; Sarah Holding

SeaWAR; Sarah Holding

Published by Medina, RRP £9.95. Appropriate for ages 9-15

From the cover:

“The mysterious black C-Bean is a remarkable device which, as Alice and her classmates discovered in Sea BEAN [the first book in the SeaBEAN trilogy], knows just about everything and can take them anywhere in the world.

But now it’s broken and stranded on the rocks on the remote Scottish island of St Kilda. When Karla Ingermann, the C-Bean’s designer, turns up from Germany to try to fix it, they perform a factory reset, which accidentally sends it back in time and Alice’s world is thrown into disarray.

Chased by Victorian police, attacked by an enemy submarine, imprisoned with a madwoman, summoned to rescue a dying pilot and fired at by government agents, Alice together with her parrot, her dog and her new wartime companions, embarks on a journey through time, uncovering dark secrets from St Kilda’s past and safeguarding the future before it’s too late.


SeaWAR is Part 2 of the SeaBEAN trilogy


Read the TreasuryIslands review of Part 1:  SeaBEAN.


Since reviewing SeaBean Part 1 back in November I have failed to blog even once. My WordPress dashboard is crammed with draft posts, some almost complete, some just one line, but all unfinished. I have been despondent, wavering and unsure. SeaWAR has pulled me out of my funk. When I opened the unexpected package that thunked through my front door last week to find a new shiny copy of SeaWAR, spine unbroken and smelling strongly of  factory fresh paper and ink, I knew I had only one course ahead of me: a deep bubbly bath in which I could read until my toes wrinkled, and then a bit more.

The second instalment of Sarah Holding’s SeaBEAN trilogy finds protagonist Alice on a quest through history on her island home. The C-Bean’s newfound ability to travel through time as well as space is the driving force of SeaWAR. Mixing the real history of the small archipelago of St Kilda with an imagined future creates a rich and compelling narrative of intrigue and revelation.

The mysterious near-future technology of the C-BEAN is explored further in SeaWAR, but more questions are raised than are answered. Just who built the C-Bean? Why? Even when is suddenly under question. The marvel of technological advancement that is represented by the C-Bean is a nice juxtaposition against the environmentalism that it at the heart of the novel. It is technology that has brought Alice and her family to the island, but has the same scientific quest played a hand in evacuating St Kilda in the first place? At what cost comes knowledge? Each landmark of the island has a personal history to it, too, and Alice is drawn into these stories as she travels throughout the 20th century.

Alice continues to be a wonderful protagonist for young readers. She’s upbeat and likeable, broadly enough drawn that readers can easily place themselves in her shoes but  with a strong and consistent voice  that helps her jump from the page. Though her schoolmates play a smaller role than in SeaBEAN, her new acquaintances more than fill the void. There’s the curious figure of lady Grange, imprisoned on the island in the early decades of the 20th century, the equally curious Karla Ingermann, the children and adults of St Kilda’s past add a depth of perspective to the narration.

SeaWAR is just as compelling as its predecessor and just as quickly paced. In short it’s a cracking read. The settings are distant but familiar, with always a foothold available for young readers. There’s plenty to get your teeth into, with perilous missions, acts of heroism and  With the final part of the trilogy, SeaRISE not yet available, a second read of SeaWAR is definitely warranted; there is bound to be more to discover.  SeaWAR absolutely deserves 8 out of 10.

With thanks to Medina Publishing for the review copy.

Review: SeaBEAN; Sarah Holding

SeaBEAN; Sarah Holding

SeaBEAN; Sarah Holding

Published by Medina, RRP £9.95. Appropriate for ages 9-15

From the cover:

“On her 11th birthday in 2018, Alice finds a mysterious black box on the beach. She discovers it’s called a C-Bean and imagines it belongs to her. Together with her five schoolmates – the only children on the newly re-inhabited remote island of St. Kilda – they soon realise it has extraordinary powers and can transport them anywhere in the world. Before long, Alice and her friends find themselves immersed in all sorts of thrilling adventures, from Central Park to the Amazonian rainforest to the backstreets of Hong Kong, as they uncover danger and subterfuge threatening the worlds eco-sytems. With a stray dog and a garrulous parrot they seem to have acquired along the way, they overcome their fears as the C-Bean helps them unravel the mysteries of time and tides, understand the interconnectedness of all things and, in a race against the clock, succeed in safeguarding the future of their tiny Scottish island.

SeaBEAN is Part 1 of the SeaBEAN Trilogy.”

SeaBEAN, the debut from former architect and urban development consultant Sarah Holding, is a near-future environmental adventure set mainly on the (currently) uninhabited archipelago of St Kilda (warning: irritating auto-play sound FX lurk beyond the link).

I’ll be honest: when my copy of SeaBEAN arrived I was not filled with must-read excitement. I’m not particularly a science fiction fan and I tend to fear the worst when ever the word ‘environmental’ is bandied about,  but we do not judge a book by the cover – even if it is thermochromic –  and so in I dove.

And I’m glad I did.

Part third person narration and part epistolary, SeaBEAN is a real corker of a novel, suitable for reading aloud from the age of eight or nine and lone-reading from around ten. Written with an economy of language that belies its debut status, Holding captures the character of her 11-year-old protagonist and focalsing agent Alice beautifully and creates a compelling narrative on a complex topic without condescending to her young audience. She’s straightforward without being obvious, addressing  important contemporary issues without being preachy. This is a rare talent indeed.

At the core of the primary plot is a machine called the C-Bean, a sort of internet-enabled matter transporter  that is part classroom, part TARDIS, part iPad; a black box that can take the children inside it anywhere in the world. Alice and her friends visit New York, Australia, Hong Kong and the Amazonian rainforest, in each location learning a little more about the interconnectedness of things and the unconsidered consequences of our actions, even when we’re acting in good faith. Despite the brisk pace each landscape is superbly captured as Holding sketches an impression of each new location, before throwing her characters into it and seeing how they react.

As is often the case with tightly packed narratives, it’s difficult to discuss the book without giving too much of the game away, so I’ll try to stick to wider themes. The primary motif in SeaBEAN is,  predictably, given the name of the book and of the  futuristic portakabin at its heart, is the sea bean or drift seed, an organic flotsam in the form of plant seeds that travel many miles over the ocean as part of their not-becoming-extinct strategy that there’s probably a proper botanical word for. Just as the seed of a plant rooted in one continent can affect the environment of another, so can our actions and some of those actions can ben devastating.

Thanks in part to a prologue that suggests there’s more to C-Bean than meets the eye, I look forward to part two of the trilogy, SeaWAR, which sees the C-Bean turn time machine as well as matter transporter. SeaWAR is available from March 2014.

For its  exciting adventure and accessible prose that will delight loves of Secret Seven and Famous Five books, SeaBEAN deserves a hearty 9 out of 10.

With thanks to Guy and Shelley at Medina Publishing for the review copy.