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.
‘A wonderful combination of a thrilling mystery and a perfectly depicted period piece’ Sunday Mirror
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.
I am a huge fan of Anna Mazzola’s The Unseeing and I was actually nervous to read The Story Keeper in case I didn’t love it as much. I’m happy to report that it’s equally atmospheric and maybe just has the edge for me, because of its Scottish setting and sustained sense of eeriness and dread. Thank you so much to Anne Cater who knew exactly how desperate I was to continue shouting about this fantastic book after featuring it in my Autumn Reads in 17 Degrees magazine.
The Story Keeper tells the tale of Audrey Hart, who is on the Isle of Skye to collect folktales. The crofters are suspicious and hostile, both during her research and when Audrey accidentally discovers the body of a young girl. Initially Audrey believes that she might have been abducted, but eventually, secrets from her own past conspire to make her feel that there are darker forces afoot here – forces that cannot be easily explained away.
The Story Keeper really challenges us to think about the difference between belief and truth. It uses folk tales to pose questions about the way we look at our own histories and I feel like this atmospheric and evocative read will really remain with you for a long time. If you’re looking for something to make you think twice about your own local legends, then this is definitely the read for you. I just can’t recommend it highly enough.
The Story Keeper is the kind of novel that I absolutely love. I love historical tales where women connected across time with lives and experiences that you are equally drawn to and whose stories you can move between effortlessly. Anna Mazzola paints the island life that Audrey encounters so convincingly that you really feel that you’ve spent time in this closed-off and windswept world, making it very hard to pull yourself away. It’s a novel made for long winter afternoons and I got lost in its pages in my Winter break in gorgeous Perthshire this year.
Audrey is a woman with lots going on beneath the surface. Her life at first appears like a carefully-constructed hiding place for her to keep her secrets close and escape any unwanted attention that her outsider status may cause. She seems to hold herself at a distance from the islanders she encounters and her isolation both draws us into her world whilst holding us at arms’ length too, which Audrey seems to do to everyone.
The fact that she is an outsider – seeing the island through fresh eyes and questioning what she sees – is such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to Audrey; I found myself watching her every movement to see if I could catch a glimpse of whatever she was hiding. Her aloofness hints at a complex past and Anna Mazzola skilfully leaves us to speculate about the roots of her emotional distance without alienating us from Audrey herself – a very clever method of keeping us connected to her.
The Story Keeper is inspired by the West Ham vanishings: the mysterious disappearance of a number of children and young adults from London’s East End in the 1880s and 1890s.
This connection with a real-life mystery was extremely convincingly conveyed – without being over the top or stretching our belief in Audrey’s fictional story. was something that I wanted to read more about as soon as I’d finished reading The Story Keeper Anna Mazzola manages, just as she did in The Unseeing, to make the setting as compelling and ‘present’ as her two main characters.
Even though I was reading it in Perthshire rather than on seaswept Skye, I felt Skye come to life as I walked in the footsteps of these characters and experienced their stories for myself. Audrey’s journey to unravel these secrets of the Sluagh, spirits of the restless dead is a fascinating and unputdownable one which really brings the setting to life and allowed me to lose myself in its mists and coastline whilst remaining wholly connected to Audrey and her mission to uncover these mysteries for herself
Anna Mazzola is such a talented voice. She draws the reader into her characters’ worlds and makes them live for us as we read. Audrey’s tales are all the more powerful due to their connections with real-life events. I was happily engrossed in my Fairy stories research – and looking through some Skye Air BandB rentals in a post-reading haze – for a whole afternoon after finishing this wholly engrossing read
This gorgeous book took pride of place in my very own ‘TBR Bookshelf’ and looked so tempting in my #TartanShelfie that I devoured it in a single day.
Now I’m just waiting on her next one – I actually cannot wait…
Make sure that you go online immediately and order yourself a copy you definitely won’t regret it. And if you are not following Anna on Twitter – you are really missing out.
She is properly ‘on’ Twitter – rather than just there to promote her writing and I’ve been intrigued by many a weird and wonderful link that she’s commented on or posted about. If you are a fan of Victoriana, all things gothic, strange and mysterious events and random slices of real life with a wry smile – she’s definitely your woman.
Find her here @AnnaMazz and follow her as soon as you can
Writer On The Shelf
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.