Wednesday 15 April 2015

Review: Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty


Legends (also known as terrifying, human-eating monsters) have invaded the town of Darkmouth and aim to conquer the world.

But don’t panic! The last remaining Legend Hunter - Finn - will protect us.

Finn: twelve-years-old, loves animals, not a natural fighter, but tries really, really hard, and we all know good intentions are the best weapons against a hungry Minotaur, right?

On second thoughts, panic.


Derek Landy's brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series finally came to an end last year, but it looks as if HarperCollins may have already struck kidlit gold again, this time in the form of Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty. The first book in a new series, Darkmouth is a hugely enjoyable and exciting read that is perfect for 9+ readers, and like his fellow countrymen Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer did before him, I fully expect Hegarty to take the world of children's books by storm based on his debut.

What is it about these Irish writers? What are they feeding them over there? I've mentioned two such luminaries already, but when you add the likes of John Boyne, Darren Shan and Michael Scott to the list then I would not be surprised if UK publishers had agents scouring the Emerald Isle in search of the next big talent. All of them have produced books that have been popular with critics and readers of all ages, and I think the Darkmouth series will be included in this list in years to come. Hegarty's book has the wit and sparkling dialogue of Landy and the cleverness of Colfer's Artemis Fowl series. Throw in the ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation set-up seen in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, and you will have a good idea of what to expect (yes, I know that RR is not Irish, but the parallels are there).

The town of Darkmouth is the last of the 'Blighted Villages', places where the veil between our world and the world of myths and legends is particularly thin. Over the centuries monsters and men shared the earth, and then fought battles for it before the monsters, or Legends as they are known herein, were banished to their own dimension. The barrier between worlds is still rather flimsy in Darkmouth, and as such the village retains its Legend Hunter, a man tasked with capturing any of the beasties who manage to cross into our world. 

The hero of this book, Finn, is the son of this last remaining Legend Hunter, and as such it is destiny to one day take on this mantle and himself become the last remaining Legend Hunter. The only problem is Finn is pretty crap when it comes to monster hunting. He's very much like I was at school (and still to this day) when it comes to sports - tries hard but is destined to be forever languishing in the bottom league. However, his pushy father expects the best of him, and struggles to hide his disappointment when Finn's efforts invariably fall short of perfection. Add to the the danger of having to hunt the likes of the Minotaur shown below and it's easy to see that Finn's lot is not a happy one.

Illustration by James de la Rue

Unfortunately for Finn there is a plot afoot, and the leader of the Legends is planning to invade Darkmouth and then the rest of our world with his monstrous horde. So begins an exciting and fast-paced story that twists and turns, as Finn meets other characters who may not be exactly who they seem, with crosses and doublecrosses, and deep, dark family secrets itching to be discovered.

Hegarty's writing is complemented wonderfully by the amazing illustrations of James de la Rue, who also illustrated the book's cover. Seriously, just how good is that Minotaur drawing? I know that some people feel that kids should be allowed to use their imaginations, but I really do wish that more books for the 9+ age group had illustrations, especially those in the fantasy and horror genres. I can't believe that any readers of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's Edge Chronicles books have complained that their imaginations are being stifled by Riddell's fantastic illustrations and I would love to see more publishers splash out on illustrators for their authors' books.

Illustration by James de la Rue

Darkmouth is a cracking coming-of-age story with a wonderful fantasy concept as its foundation and I for one cannot wait until the sequel, Worlds Explode, is published in July. My thanks go to the wonderful people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to read and review.

P.S. It's well worth heading on over to the Darkmouth YouTube channel for videos like the ones below:


  1. This was a light, entertaining and appealing find. It seems to fit well beyond the chapter book stage but maybe a bit younger than Percy Jackson-style works, which is an overlooked demo that this settles into quite nicely. A very engaging choice.

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