‘First the land was taken.
Then the stories.
Then the girls.’
The Story Keeper is the second novel from Anna Mazzola, following on from the success of her debut The Unseeing . Described as a ‘sizzling, period novel’, The Story Keeper will be published by Tinder Press on 26th July.
I read The Story Keeper while on my holidays recently and I can honestly say my head was stuck in the pages until the I read the very last word. A brooding and atmospheric novel folks!
Read on for my thoughts…
About The Book:
Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the word-of-mouth folk tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters tell her that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl has disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the spirits of the unforgiven dead.
Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but then she is reminded of her own mother, a Skye woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It seems there is a link to be explored, and Audrey may uncover just what her family have been hiding from her all these years.
Anna Mazzola has written a fascinating story that completely intrigued me and kept me turning those pages well into the wee small hours. I love a book that encourages me to do my own research into a topic of significant historical relevance. In the case of The Story Keeper, it was the reference to The Highland Clearances and the horrors that were inflicted on folk as they were evicted from their homes and forced into emigration to faraway lands, never to see home again.. The Isle of Skye was decimated during this time, leaving the remaining folk suspicious of strangers and hostile toward any who were not one of their own.
The Story Keeper is based on the Isle of Skye following the clearances. It’s 1857 and Audrey Hart has left her life in London behind to take up a position as assistant to Miss Buchanan, a local member of the gentry with a passion for folklore. Following the cruel eviction of many of the local residents, and their subsequent departure from the island, Miss Buchanan fears that the old stories and superstitions will be lost forever. Over the years she has gathered many stories but an injury in her youth has incapacitated her as her condition has degenerated with the passing of time. Now housebound, she advertised for help and decided that Audrey’s application for the position was the most suitable. Audrey is looking to escape her life in London and makes the long, lonely and, at times, inhospitable journey to the Isle of Skye. Anna Mazzola’s opening description of Audrey’s arrival sets out the scene for the reader as the desolation is palpable off the pages.
The layers of the story are excellently revealed as we gradually form an idea of what is happening on the island. Audrey carries her own secret close to her chest and, as she fears for her own safety, she soon realises that she is not the only one with a secret to keep.
As Audrey settles into life on the island, a darkness seems to permeate through the pages. Audrey is conscious of a very disconcerting atmosphere in the Buchanan household, and in the surrounding countryside, but it is only on the discovery of the body of a young girl washed up on the beach that raises many questions for Audrey. Is this the work of something otherworldly as the locals would have her believe or are there some other sinister forces at play.
Audrey’s love of the old ways and it’s secrets was inspired by her mother, an avid collector of anecdotal evidence, who kept notes of the whispered legends and myths associated with the fairies and the spirits, both good and evil. Audrey’s mother had a tragic passing on the Isle of Skye, and with the tales of young girls going missing in recent years from the island, Audrey’s suspicions are raised. What really did happen to her mother? Why, if the locals are to be believed, are girls vanishing from the island again?
The Story Keeper is the perfect sinister read, with the atmospheric content so fabulously depicted. There is a constant feeling of menace and mystery which really makes for a very addictive read. I had heard so much about Anna Mazzola’s writing in the last while, with incredible reviews of her debut The Unseeing all over social media and beyond, that I had huge expectations for The Story Keeper. There is always that fear that with these high expectations there will be the inevitable disappointment, but certainly not here.
The Story Keeper is reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock combined, giving it the potential to be an incredible movie, with the same darkness and unsettled feelings that accompany a Hitchcock classic. I really enjoyed this book!!
Ominous. Chilling. Mysterious.
Purchase Link ~ The Story Keeper
Anna Mazzola is a writer whose novels have been described as literary crime fiction or historical crime, exploring the psychological and social 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 2016 Anna was named an Amazon Rising Star.
Her second novel, The Story Keeper, will be published this July. It follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairytales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye in 1857.
As well as novels, Anna writes short stories, and she is currently working on a sitcom. 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 began writing while on maternity leave and took several writing courses, during which a short story morphed into her first novel. 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.
Website ~ https://annamazzola.com/
Twitter ~ @Anna_Mazz