For more than a century, thanks to L.M. Montgomery’s series that began with Anne of Green Gables, readers have associated Canada’s Prince Edward Island (PEI) with a spirited redhead named Anne Shirley. First-time author Regina M. Hansen stakes her own PEI literary claim via another ginger-haired girl, Beatrice MacNeill, known as “Beet.” Like Anne, she’s determined and sharp-witted. Unlike Anne, she discovers one fateful night in 1949 that she can see ghosts.
It’s the specter of Beet’s beloved older cousin Gerry who comes to her, soaking wet and playing an eerie tune on his fiddle. Beet realizes he must have died at sea and that he’ll never meet his son, Joseph, born that very night. Alas, this is not the last time Beet experiences deep sorrow in Hansen’s historical fantasy, The Coming Storm. It’s also not the last time something strange happens in her world, as ancient folklore and workaday reality collide.
The sea and its unknowable allure are central to Hansen’s story, as is PEI itself. The author’s descriptions of the island’s wet sands, foggy nights and dramatic cliffs create a spooky atmosphere that elicits a delicious sense of creeping dread. This dread takes hold of Beet after the arrival of Marina Shaw, who claims to be a cousin of Gerry’s and expresses her outrageous intent to take little Joseph back to Boston with her.
Beet can’t understand why Marina remains so unsettlingly serene in the wake of any objections. And what about the unearthly music she keeps hearing riding on the breeze? Certainly the sea stirs up strange winds, but this feels . . . different.
Hansen moves the story back and forth in time, skillfully introducing characters who share their own bizarre sea stories with Beet. As the days and pages pass, the danger to Joseph grows, and a supernatural threat looms over Beet’s island home, all of which contribute to the slowly building suspense. The Coming Storm is an intriguing, often thrilling tribute to the bonds of love and friendship. It’s also an eloquent ode to the wild beauty of PEI and a testament to the power of facing what confounds us.