Book Review

The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas

The Kendricks have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftmanship alone. Each has an emotion laid on it; a magic that can provoke bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch.

Persephone Kendrick longs to learn her ancestors’ craft, but only men may know the secrets of the workshop. So when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and blood ties to the family she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

But then, one night, the firm’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her.

Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

The Thief on the Winged Horse is a novel that intrigued me as soon as I heard about it.  It’s one that I’m now kicking myself for having left it unread for so long as I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which successfully blends crime and magic with a distinctly feminist narrative.

The novel features an extended family of doll makers whose wares are desirable not only for their quality, but also for the emotion that each one is infused with – an emotion that passes to the holder when touched.  I think that it’s a great concept, and one that works well throughout the novel.  Imagine being able to get a little boost of courage when needed, or a sense of happiness at a time of need, simply at the touch of a doll.  How this is achieved is a closely guarded secret and something that the Kendricks’ competitors would love to discover. As the novel progresses, we learn just how closely that secret is guarded.  The women of the family – whether by birth or marriage – are not permitted to know the secret, lest the emotions become too much for them, despite the founding members of the family being female themselves. 

“The women do interiors” her father said. “They’ve a knack for that, because they tidy homes in real life, too. Compared to men they’re more emotional, so working sorcery on dolls would stir them up a lot.”

Persephone Kendrick isn’t content with this.  She wants to be a sorcerer, and sees no reason why she shouldn’t be, other than the whims of the men in the family.  I’ve got a lot of love for Persephone.  We first see her through the eyes of another character, and she comes across as being quite a grouchy individual.  The reader soon gets to know her better, however, and I found it easy to sympathise with her goals and I fully understood her frustration with the status quo.  What I really like about Persephone is that she isn’t a character who’s there to please those around her.  She’s a grumpy, discontented figure who wants more than she’s been offered.  Additionally, she isn’t a waif who’s concerned about her waistline.  She is comfortable in her own skin, and disregards those who poke fun at her and / or her figure.  I’d love to see more characters like this!

When a stranger – Larkin – arrives claiming a blood relationship to the family, he is welcomed and while not fully trusted, he is immediately given more access and coaching than Persephone. To say that she smarts at this doesn’t even begin to cover it, but she’s clever enough to see the opportunity that it presents. Both want more than is being offered to them, and perhaps they can help each other in that respect.  Further upset occurs when the Kendricks’ most valuable doll is stolen – something that could only have been an inside job.  This sets in motion events that will change everything for all concerned.  It also brings Persephone and Larking closer together, adding a romantic edge to the narrative.  It works really well to add a little something extra to the tale and it’s a relationship that’s well portrayed. 

Set in present-day Oxford, this is a wonderful novel that adds a touch of magic to the world that we know.  Part mystery, part romance, part fantasy, it’s a brilliant novel about striving for equality and what you believe in.  Highly recommended.

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