The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola |Book Review | #TheStoryKeeper

Published by Tinder Press
Available in ebook, hardback, paperback and audio (10 January 2019)
368 pages
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Book

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.

My Thoughts

My thanks to Tinder Press for the review copy and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour.

Audrey Hart has left her family in London for the Isle of Skye to interview for the job of assisting a folklorist, Miss Buchanan.  Having burned her bridges in London she is keen to get the job, she has nowhere else to go and also she is seeking answers to her mother’s death on the island, some years before. Her mother was also a collector of folk tales and Audrey feels a natural affinity to the Island and to the subject of folklore and myths. 

The islanders are a closed community and are not willing to give up their stories so easily. Many are scared of repercussions as some regard the telling of folk stories to be on a par with witchcraft and to be dangerous. The Buchanan family, as local landowners, are not trusted for various reasons and Audrey finds it difficult to engage with the island folk and to get them to trust her.

When young girls go missing, some folk are insistent that evil spirits are responsible however Audrey is not so sure.   Superstition can be so dangerous and the cruelty and paranoia shown by some of the villagers was quite disturbing.

The Story Keeper is a haunting and atmospheric tale.  Set in 1857 on the Isle of Skye, the wintry conditions and the remoteness of the landscape are vividly brought to the page by the descriptive prose. It was so easy to be drawn into the story, the lines between legend and reality become blurred and at times I became as concerned as Audrey in trying to work out what was happening.

Some of the myths and legends mentioned were fascinating, albeit at times rather horrific in their description.  The living conditions of some of the crofters were beyond basic and some of the islanders had been subject to brutal treatment by the Master of the Buchanan family in being forced to leave their homes. The fact that anyone managed to survive was miraculous.

Audrey’s backstory which is gradually revealed, was not a happy one however for her time, she was an independent and resilient character, resisting attempts by her stepmother to marry her off to just anyone. The fact that she was unmarried at nearly 25 meant that she was considered to be almost an ‘old maid’. How times have changed! At times she seemed rather naïve for someone in her mid twenties, but I was on her side all the way, hoping that she would find the answers she was seeking.

This was an excellent read which I very much enjoyed.  It has a slow pace with a sinister undertone throughout however it’s the myriad of characters that drive the story forward; the different threads of the mystery of the missing girls, the unanswered questions over the death of Audrey’s mother, the legends and fairy tales kept my interest all the way through – there were certainly some surprises in store for me – and a conclusion that I wasn’t expecting.

About the Author

Photo credit Lou Abercrombie

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.

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