November Tea and a Book: Island Whispers, by Frances Hardinge

Nov 29, 2023

My recommendation for November is a spooky tale of personal loss, adventure, and heroism. Island of Whispers is appropriate for MG readers and older. Our hero may be a boy, but his journey is rather epic!

Synopsis (from the publisher):

On the island of Merlank, the Dead must not be allowed to linger. The very sight of their ghosts can kill you. When young Milo is thrust into the role of Ferryman following his father’s sudden death, he is the one who must carry away the Dead.

Pursued by a vengeful lord and two malignant magicians, Milo must navigate strange and perilous seas where untold threats whisper in the mist. Does he have the courage and imagination to complete his urgent mission?

A favorite passage:

It was the mist, everyone agreed, that stopped the Dead from leaving the island of Merlank. In the rest of the world people sloughed off their bodies like butterflies leaving cocoons, and their spirits invisibly departed. In Merlank, they lingered.


Even the living sometimes found it hard not to listen to the mists, and their barely perceptible orchestra of almost-sounds. But living ears had so many other things to listen to, such as the quiet sea or their own breathing, the warm drum of their own hearts, a thousand little clicks and river-rushes in their own softly alive bodies. The Dead did not have such distractions. They heard everything the mist said, perhaps, and they lingered too long, and missed the moment when they should have departed. (15-16)

My thoughts:

Honestly, this year of folk horror recommendations has left me rattled. I love horror stories on page and screen, but the content I explored over the past months proved overwhelming at times. It seems that folk horror is a different kettle of fish compared to mainstream horror. I love its dark weirdness, but the rural and isolated settings, along with its fixation on superstition, paganism, and sacrifice, truly got under my skin.

With all that in mind, I was so happy to read a heroic and heartwarming story with folk horror elements. I’ve long been a fan of Frances Hardinge, but since I started writing adult fiction, I moved away from YA and MG tales. Turns out Hardinge’s books are for every age, and I can’t wait to read the stories I missed over the past few years.

Some insights on Island of Whispers from the author: 

Now for tea:

A good old cup of Assam seemed just the ticket, and I chose the Assam Superior from Tea Palace in London — “the bright reddish-amber infusion is brisk, smooth and sweet with plenty of Assam’s characteristic malty flavor, fruity overtones and hints of chocolate and caramel.” You’ll never go wrong with Assam, nor with this purveyor, and they happily ship their high quality teas all over the world!

Stay tuned for December’s “Tea and a Book” recommendation!

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