It’s an absolute delight today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola, published in paperback by Tinder Press on 10th January. The hardcover, kindle version and audiobook have been available since July 2018, and I have absolutely no idea why this wonderful book had escaped my radar until now – thank goodness for blog tours, eh? And I haven’t read The Unseeing either – I really do need to put that right…
From the author of The Unseeing comes a sizzling, period novel of folk tales, disappearances and injustice set on the Isle of Skye, sure to appeal to readers of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites or Beth Underdown’s The Witch Finder’s Sister.
Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories.
Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds.
Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.
Goodness, I so enjoyed this one! And I really must stop saying that historical settings aren’t really my thing, because when they’re created this superbly there’s nothing I enjoy more. I loved everything about the vivid and atmospheric backdrop – Skye at a point in its history that I knew little about (but was inspired to research a little), the tradition of oral story-telling slowly dying out, the beliefs in malevolent spirits and elements of the supernatural still unsettlingly close to the surface. This is a book in the very best gothic tradition – the naive incomer encountering the inexplicable – but I loved its depth, the mystery behind the death of Audrey’s mother all tied up with the disappearances of young women from the area.
The pacing is perfect – this is a book that draws you in from the very first pages, sucks you into its depths as the story unfolds, and builds the speed and tension as it approaches conclusion (don’t start reading the last hundred pages in bed, as I did – I was still reading at 3am, unable to put it down until the bitter end). The characters are just wonderful – Audrey at centre stage, uncertain and damaged by her early experiences but brave and tenacious in her pursuit of the truth, supported by a large cast of superbly drawn local characters, sometimes threatening and disconcerting, sometimes unexpectedly supportive.
The writing is exceptional – there are scenes and images in this book that have seared themselves into my memory, and the story-telling, in keeping with its context, is quite wonderful. The tangling of the threads, the stories of the losses of Audrey’s mother and of the local girls, is so intricately done – the final untangling wholly unexpected, but credible and well handled. And meanwhile the spirits swirl in the sky with their portent of doom, Murdo nails bodies of birds to his gibbet, and the crofters do what they must to protect themselves… magnificent and unforgettable.
About the author
Anna is a writer who, due to some fault of her parents, is drawn to peculiar and dark historical subjects. Her novels have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime. Anna’s influences include Sarah Waters, Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Margaret Atwood.
Her debut novel, The Unseeing, is based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted of aiding a murder in London in 1837. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairytales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye in 1857.
She studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before becoming a human rights and criminal justice solicitor. She now tries to combine law with writing and child wrangling, to varying degrees of success.
Anna loves to hear from readers, so do say hello on social media or via her website.