Source: Review copy
Publication : Paperback on 10 January 2019 from Tinder Press
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.
The Story Keeper is set in God’s own garden, the beautiful, haunting landscape of the Isle of Skye, my favourite place on earth. Set in a time of deep trouble for its residents, when greed and pitiless cruelty were in the forefront of driving every hard-working person from the island. For his is the time of the clearances; a time when Gaelic is about to be put under serious threat; when traditional farming methods can no longer sustain families and when landlords are both increasing rents and turning people off land they have family farmed for generations.
This is the atmospheric and haunting setting for the exploration of the myths and legends of the island. Audrey Hart has travelled from London, she has pretty much run away by the sound of it, though we don’t know why and she takes the long and wet journey to Lanerly Hall on Skye. Presided over by the matriarchal figure of Miss Buchanan, Lanerly Hall is an old, dilapidated house full of stuffed animals and creaking corridors.
Audrey has come in response to an advert placed by Miss Buchanan, seeking someone who can help her collect the stories of the islanders; the myths and legends of the legendary faerie folk that still form part of their daily superstitions and practices, especially around the sea.
For just as the islanders way of life is under threat, so is the tradition of oral story telling passed down through generations and Miss Buchanan is determined to capture the stories before they are lost for ever.
Arriving into this maelstrom of change, and with an agenda of her own, Audrey must contend with a hostile game-keeper, a laird who seems to have little or no compassion for his tenants; a minister who breathes fire and fury and a group of villagers who are less than impressed by incomers. When girls start to go missing, that suspicion only intensifies and Audrey has no idea who she can trust.
Anna Mazzola creates a beautifully dark and gothic atmosphere in which to explore the folklore and legends of the islanders. Her prose is fluid and flawless and she creates a magical and mysterious environment in which anything is possible.
Sitting at her metaphorical loom, Mazzola weaves a rich and varied tapestry with multiple threads and plot lines which come together to form a magnificent story of death, destruction and stubborn courage.
Verdict : A highly enjoyable, beautifully told story.
Anna is a writer who, due to some fault of her parents, is drawn to peculiar and dark historical subjects. Her novels, which have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime, explore the impact of crime and injustice. 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. The Sunday Times called it, ‘A twisting tale of family secrets and unacknowledged desires.’ It won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers’ Association’s Debut Crown in the UK.
Her second novel, The Story Keeper, was published in July (paperback January 2019). It follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairytales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye in 1857. The Story Keeper has been longlisted for the Highland Book Prize.
As well as novels, Anna writes short stories. She also blogs for The History Girls.
Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before accidentally becoming a human rights and criminal justice solicitor. She now tries to combine law with writing, to varying degrees of success.
She lives in Camberwell, South London, with two small children, two cats and one husband.