Today I am delighted to be reviewing The Pact by J.E. Hannaford which is out on the 1st September, and is the final book in the Black Hind’s Wake Duology. I adored the first book The Skin (You can read the review HERE), and The Pact has firmly established J.E. Hannaford as a must-read author for me, and I am already ridiculously excited for her next project Gates and whatever will come next in the world of the Black Hind’s Wake.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, and I also had the honour of being a beta reader for this one, however all thoughts are my own.
‘How, can you let things fade so far? I had a reason. I had cause, I was limited. You – you hide in your lakes playing games. This world crumbles, the last refuge north of the Everstorm is Mynyw and you have let it fall into jeopardy.’
The new King of Terrania may no longer hunt for Old Ones, but the world is far from safe. As the crew of Black Hind continues to search out the Old Ones and return them to their rightful homelands, the reach of a dead consort haunts the new king from beyond the grave.
In distant Mynyw a loyal guardian discovers the unravelling of an ancient pact. As Black Hind sails into his territory, he has a decision to make. Can he overcome his prejudice and ask for help from the strangers before the last refuge falls?
The Pact was one of my most anticipated reads for 2022, and wow – just wow. This is how you continue and finish a duology. I had high hopes for this one, as The Skin was one of my favourite reads for last year, and Hannaford blew all of those out of the window. The heart of the story is still the same, the world is the same but larger in breadth and depth, and we are reunited with many beloved characters – but at the same time, it feels like The Pact has spread its wings and taken off (fitting considering the cover) and taken everything beyond those familiar elements into something new.
Firstly, as with the first book it must be said that The Pact is a beautiful book. The cover is stunning (and oh so fitting), and I cannot wait to have both books side by side. Again, we have maps, one familiar and a new one, that not only demonstrates visually the expansion of the world of the Black Hind’s Wake but will also resonate with anyone familiar with folklore and old tales. And then there are the wonderful chapter headers, and you’ll realise the meaning in each one as the story goes on. Each detail is a lovely addition to the experience that is reading this book.
‘Unlike the shoreline homes, these were old, had survived the ravages of weather and time, and were beautifully maintained. Vines were painted around the door frames in as much detail as Sirena could have achieved. Would they have been real before the warming?’
As mentioned above, the world of the Black Hind’s Wake expands considerably in The Pact and not just geographically, although we do follow the Black Hind into new waters, and rediscover old lands that were lost, as well as new lands. One of my favourites is near the beginning when we visit Zora’s home, as it showed another way of living, and another way in which the Old Ones and humans were able to and needed to live in harmony. The Selkie lands are another favourite, although that is tangled up with the emotional aspect of those areas. And then there is Mynyw – which is so central to this book, and also why I say the expansion of the world and the worldbuilding in this book is not purely geographical, because in Mynyw in particular we see the boundaries of the real world and the world of the Old Ones blur and outright break in places. We tread the Path that leads to the world of the Tylwyth Teg, we see the library that holds the magical history of Mynyw and more, and we glimpse beyond.
What I particularly loved was that this world was never static. Each part of the world was in it’s own flux, between the changes wrought by the removal or return of the Old Ones, the influence of the sea and the catastrophe that had made the world as it was now, or from the actions of humans and those working with them, and the fragile state of the Pact.
This world lived and breathed, turned and grew. It didn’t matter which side of the magical divide it fell on, the waters and flames of change affected all equally – and it made for such a cohesive world, that you just sink into the pages, and can smell the brine, or imagine the terror and awe of running along the path.
‘Time turns – gods faded, and mankind grew. To open the lock, we need three out of the five; Fire, Ocean, Land, Mankind. You need to return to the island. We need an Oceanic Old One or a human to open this lock. Three out of the remaining four should allow us access.’
‘What’s the fifth hole?’ Rialta asked.
‘That key is lost to us. The old gods and their descendants no longer walk the Earth.’
Another aspect of the worldbuilding that expanded considerably was the folklore. And it is here that you can really see and feel the author’s love for the world and the lore shine through, as well as the care and attention to detail that has gone into this world. I also loved how this aspect was layered in. We had the creatures and people themselves like the Selkies (and this is still my favourite representation of one of my favourite mythological creatures) and the Tylwyth Teg, but we also had the old lore and sayings that were passed amongst the people. Little sayings and tales, much as we come across in everyday life, that often the truth has been forgotten and lost to myth, but which are still passed down, varying between regions and people. From sayings that Tellin remembers, to stories that were told amongst the Sea Folk, to old rules that those like Maddoc must live by.
‘Tellin, they believe in you. They believe in sirens and dragons. As a boy, I remember sitting at the feet of an old man on a rainbow boat, listening to tales of the Old Ones …’
That is the power of this series, and this book in particular. It isn’t just a retelling of folklore. It is living, breathing folklore, with a tangible finger on the pulse and rhythm of the ‘real’ world. It is stories within stories, and worlds within worlds and magic made real. You can lose yourself within the layers of this world, because Hannaford does such a fantastic job of weaving together the threads and arcs, that you are swept along with the tide.
‘The foods looked exciting, but sometimes one just needed comfort food. On the far table, he spotted a selection of cheeses. That was more like it! Maddoc took a warm, spiced roll from a basket and set course for the cheese.’
While everything about The Pact feels bigger, it remains at it’s core a very character-driven story, and here we are not just reunited with familiar faces and favourites, but also introduced us to a whole new cast of characters. And I may have a new favourite…
Firstly, though the original crew are back. And Selkie remains a favourite, and to be honest as much as I loved one of the new characters, I’m not sure she could ever be knocked off her pedestal. Here we see her really growing into herself and moving towards the future. There was a feeling in The Skin that she was finding out who she was without her skin, but here, even though that and reuniting and swimming with her pack remained a core driving force, it felt as though she had come into her own. She had found her place in the world, her family, her purpose – and what’s more you could feel it being continually shaped as the story progressed, each situation, each victory and loss and threat, carving a place in who she was.
And that is one of the most powerful aspects of Hannaford’s characterisation in general – you can see the characters being influenced and influencing the world in turn, and one of my favourite things to see in The Pact was that you could see and feel the impact of the previous book’s events on the characters – from the shifting bonds in the crew, to the way Eden was carried with them in different ways.
I should also say hold onto your hats (and your hearts) when it comes to any favourites. The Pact raises the stakes considerably, and Hannaford was not pulling any punches in this one and my heart was in my mouth on multiple occasions while reading this one. And again, those moments ripple through all the characters not just the ones directly impacted.
Theo and Ria also really came into their own in this book, and oh my heart in so many places during their story threads. Writing this review has made me realise how much this book impacted on me – and I loved it. It’s also made reflect on just how cohesive The Pact is – because each of these characters, as well as the new ones, were directly linked to expanding the world as well. Showing us different aspects of it, and themselves at the same time. Through Theo we get to meet the sea-folk, a whole people that I desperately want to read more about, as well weaving in new threads. While Ria is the star of the show in so many ways. Then we have Sal and Zora and Seren, and little Gar. Honestly, every single character in this book is so wonderfully compelling, that it is impossible not to be invested in every one of them.
Of the new characters, Maddoc stole my heart. I think it was the love of cheese sandwiches… He was our link to a whole new aspect of this world and its folklore, but he was wonderfully compelling as an individual, bound by a duty, longing for peace and home, and with a fascinating relationship with his mother. And while he was new to us in this book, that did not limit his arc and he goes through so much in this book. I also have to give an honourable shout-out to his mother, who I also loved – but probably wouldn’t want to meet in person. Actually, there should be a shout-out to bad-ass mothers in general, because we also get to meet Sal’s and oh my goodness, I loved her and I loved that we could see her hand in who Sal is. Môr was another favourite introduced in this book, and I was over the moon that The Pact gave us so much more Selkie content, and such varied insights into their customs and world, and what situations would drive them to action.
The plot of The Pact is intricate and far-reaching, the stakes are high and potentially devasting, and both pull you in and capture your attention. But, it is these characters, with their own hopes and dreams, and secrets and scars, and the bonds that they share that leave you completely and utterly invested in the outcome of the events that are unfolding. Even the antagonists – and oh there was a twist that shocked me – are compelling (even if it is just to wish that they will be stopped), and that is all down to Hannaford’s characterisation and sheer skill in bringing these characters human or not to life.
‘You have changed the world.’ I told her.
So… How do you end a book and a series that has trod and crossed the boundaries between mythology and the human world, delving into magic and history, and a far-flung future through the eyes and voices of both humans and beings that have stepped straight out of that mythology?
With beautiful simplicity.
The ending of The Pact has that feeling of coming home and settling by the fire with a warm drink after a long journey. It did a fantastic job of bringing the entire series full circle, of breathing deep and accepting everything that had happened, and why it had happened, and it showed both how far Selkie had come from where we met her in book one, but also how far this world still had to go. The final line was sheer perfection, and resonated long after I had closed the book, and it has to be one of the most satisfying endings I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
The Pact took everything that I loved about The Skin – and there was a lot – and just lifted it, like Zora raising a wave. Everything felt more – the world was bigger, and we got to discover more layers of the world and its people, as well as the mythology and lore, the cast of characters grew and those that had been lost were not forgotten. The stakes, and the price of failure and success were higher too. It felt like a world on the edge of a tipping point, and there were moments where the darkness, and the sharp edge of that tipping point sliced deep – and blood was shed (and tears) and no one felt safe. Yet, at the heart of this story there was always a heartbeat of hope. A chance that things could be changed and brought back to how it should be. That even though it wouldn’t be easy, that bleak future could be fought against and even prevented. That bonds of friendship and family, and connections can tip the balance.
I cannot wait to see where we will go next in this world, and who we will be sailing with. Hannaford has created something different with this wonderful blend of folklore and a post-apocalyptic world and has demonstrated just how much magic and power is in the old lore and tales.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.