With a cover that screams ‘Gothic historical fiction’, I just had to read this one!
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.
Do you know what makes fiction all the more chilling? When it’s inspired by true events, a real case of young adults vanishing in the East End of London in the 1880s! Mazzola used this case as inspiration, relocated it to the Isle of Skye, and even weaved in a fairy tale of her own.
“Every group of people have their own stories that they create to make sense of their world. Therefore, in folk stories, in fairy tales, we see the reflection of humankind: its strength, flaws, hopes, fears. They tell us what it takes to survive.”
Yes, yes, a million times yes to that quote! Written so perfectly, it explains why children and adults love fairy tales, why folklore is so important, the messages within, let the stories never be forgotten. Hearing snippets of folktales throughout this novel was brilliant, especially the mention of the selkies legend, which is one of my favourites. Not only is The Story Keeper a great title, but the overall premise of this novel is great. It’s so atmospheric, gothic, mysterious and haunting that you can forgive it the relatively slow pacing, because the atmosphere is so strong and all encompassing. The remote landscape, the rich descriptive narration, eerie in places with dark undertones, oh yes, this is one hell of an immersive read. If you enjoy dark fairy tales, and slow burning mysteries, you need to read this one!
The tension, and mystery, slowly build over the course of this novel, you start to suspect everyone! The secretive nature of the people, and their belief in spirits is keeping everyone tight-lipped. Fairies, changelings, girls drowned in the river – but where does the folklore end and murder begin!? Even more interesting than the mystery, for me, was the events surrounding Audrey’s mother’s death; it was fantastic, and the conclusion drawn here blew me away, brilliant plotting by Mazzola.
On this Scottish island, we see the divide between class, the attitudes towards mental illness, and what is and isn’t becoming of a woman, and this creates an almost oppressive atmosphere, which gives this novel its darker edge. But, more than that, it’s what makes you invested in the plot, what makes you care about what is happening to these women, and what makes you root for Audrey.
Overall, The Story Keeper is a slow burner, dark in nature, highly atmospheric, wonderfully written, and the reason I have ordered Mazzola’s previous novel, The Unseeing.
*My thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this title*