Siobhan Dowd was a towering figure in children’s publishing, and a few years before her premature death from cancer she became a towering figure in the world of children’s writing, leaving behind a small but beautiful legacy, mainly of exceptionally written books for the teen/ya market. She also leaves behind the legacy of the Siobhan Dowd Trust which works tirelessly to promote children’s literacy in all sorts of ways.
The Ransom of Dond is a book for younger readers, a folk tale, short, powerful and poetically written. It tells the story of Darra, a young girl who was born the thirteenth child of her parents. The thirteenth child of every couple on Inniscaul must be sacrificed to the dark god Dond. The sacrifice appeases Dond and allows for years of prosperity and plenty for the people of Inniscaul.
Darra’s birth has been a mistake, and she lives with the reminder of it every day, hidden from the other villagers, and looked after by the village wise man Cail. Call teaches Darra her responsibility and the prophecies of the village, preparing her for what is to come on her thirteenth birthday.
The story opens just before Darra is due to be sacrificed and we follow Darra and her thoughts through the final hours before she will be taken out to sea.
This is where something unexpected happens that changes the fate of Darra and the villagers forever.
The story is slender and simple. It is really brought to life by the dramatic and beautiful illustrations by Pam Smy that really capture the wild rawness of the island and the sea surrounding it. In fact some of the pages I loved best had no words on at all, just the sweeping, desolate landscape that Smy depicts so well.
I have to say that I much prefer Dowd’s books for teenagers, but this is a strong, well narrated story nonetheless and might be a great way to introduce younger readers to her more complex work. This is a tale that I think would work well for readers aged 8-12 and probably best read with an adult, possibly in a classroom setting to get the best out of it, as it might be considered rather traditional and ‘slow’ by some readers. It takes a little bit of work to see the true worth of this book, but it is definitely worth putting the effort in.