Tag Archives: Anna Mazzola

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

the story keeper

I loved Anna Mazzola’s debut novel, The Unseeing, and was thrilled to receive an early copy of The Story Keeper to read ahead of its publication in July.

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.

Audrey is 24 when she leaves London, heading to the Isle of Skye without her father’s knowledge.  Her early childhood was a happy one, and her love of folklore was instilled in her by her mother who came from Scotland, and where Audrey and her family lived in her early years.  Audrey’s mother died when she was 10 in circumstances that Audrey isn’t fully aware of – one of the many puzzles to be revealed in this novel – and at 12 her father remarried a woman of 19.  Moving to London, her stepmother does her best to make Audrey marriageable, however unpalatable that is to Audrey herself.  That said, Dorothea isn’t quite the wicked stepmother that you might find in a novel that has so much to do with folklore and fairy tales, and whilst she is a minor character, she is also an important one.

I thought that Audrey was a great character, and one who is before her time in her desire to seek intellectual pursuits that weren’t always deemed suitable for young ladies at the time.  She’s a conflicted character and comes across as being socially inept and awkward around others.  This isn’t all that surprising however, when you consider that she has received conflicting instructions from those around her, with her mother telling her to be herself and to stay true to what she feels is right, whilst her father and stepmother try to mould her into something more palatable to London society.  Her loyalty to her mother wins out, however, as she finds the niceties of society extremely dull, and continues to pursue her own interests, much to her father’s chagrin.

There are multiple threads to The Story Keeper, all of which is told from Audrey’s perspective, so the reader only knows as much as she does.  There are hints at a situation in London that was part of her desire to move away.  Predictably, it has to do with a man, and as this part of the story becomes clear to the reader, I admired her determination to stand up for what’s right, and this attitude stands her in good stead for her experiences on the Isle of Skye.

On Skye, Audrey initially struggles to connect with the locals, despite her own Scottish heritage, she is deemed “too English” to understand their struggles, their lives, and their stories.  They open up to her when she discovers the body of a young girl washed up in the bay, however, and she soon learns that other girls have gone missing.  The authorities are not interested, however, and deem them runaways and girls of a dubious nature that aren’t worth the time or effort to investigate their fates.  The Story Keeper is a novel that perfectly captures the attitudes of the time, with many men – not all – being largely dismissive of women as fragile, unintelligent creatures who worry too much and have overactive imaginations.  The women, unsurprisingly, are rather contemptuous of this attitude.

I love folklore, myth and fairy tales, and I loved the way in which Mazzola brought these to life in The Story Keeper.  It’s easy to dismiss them as flights of fancy, but Mazzola captures the essence of the stories, and the way that they were used to make sense of the world at the time.  Audrey’s role is to capture and document these stories, as it’s so easy for such stories, traditionally told by word of mouth, to become lost, as the church seeks dominion and dismisses the old tales as worthless, dangerous stories to frighten children and to distract from their teachings.  Added to this is the eviction of tenants by the landowners, which forced many families to emigrate, taking their stories with them to new lands where they may or may not be handed down to their children who may be exposed to alternative tales and beliefs that contrast with their own.

I absolutely loved The Story Keeper, and I thought that it was a brilliantly researched novel with much more going on that I expected when I started reading it.  It reminded me a little of The Essex Serpent, with a dash of Hannah Kent’s The Good People thrown in, and I highly recommend it.

The Story Keeper will be published on 26 July by Tinder Press.  Many thanks to Becky Hunter for the opportunity to read and review this title ahead of its publication.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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My Favourite Books of 2016

2016 has been another excellent year for books.  Here, in no particular order, are my favourite novels that were published during 2016 – clicking on the title will take you to my review.


Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star

Darrow is one of the Reds whose job it is to make Mars habitable for humans.  The mining they undertake is dangerous work and life expectancy is shockingly low, but the Reds deem it a worthy sacrifice – it’s for the good of the human race, after all.

But then Darrow discovers that it’s all a lie – Mars has been habitable, and inhabited, for years.  The Reds are just slave labour, mining elements for an elite caste of humans – the Golds.  And so Darrow, with the help of a shadowy organisation called the Sons of Ares, infiltrates the Golds in order to take them down from the inside.

Morning Star is a fitting conclusion to an outstanding trilogy.


The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

The Unseeing

Inspired by real events, The Unseeing tells the story of Sarah Gale who has been sentenced to death for the murder of Hannah Brown.

Pleading her innocence, her case is assigned to Edward Fleetwood, who has a limited amount of time to investigate.  Yet Sarah is reluctant to speak, despite her sentence, and so it falls to Edward to discover the truth behind Hannah’s murder.

The Unseeing is Mazzola’s debut novel, and is perfect for fans of Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites or Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace.


Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants starts with the discovery of a giant metal hand – thousands of years old, yet technologically superior to anything that we could manufacture today, and follows the investigation into what it is and where it came from.

Epistolary in format, Sleeping Giants is told through a series of interview transcripts conducted by a somewhat sinister nameless interviewer, allowing the reader the follow the investigation as well as seeing the implications that the discovery has.

Part sci-fi, part thriller, this is an outstanding novel and I can’t wait for book two – Waking Gods – which will be published in April 2017.


Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

Anatomy of a Soldier

Anatomy of a Soldier is the highly inventive début novel from Harry Parker, and focuses on Tom Barnes, a soldier fighting in an unspecified war who is injured by an IED.

Told out of sequence, and from the perspective of a series of inanimate objects, the reader is gradually able to piece together the events that led to Tom’s injury and his recovery.

I think it will be a long time before I stop raving about this novel – I can’t recommend it enough.


The Fireman by Joe Hill

The Fireman

A new virus is sweeping the globe – a virus that ultimately results in the spontaneous combustion of the host.

When Harper Grayson discovers the tell-tale markings on her skin, she is forced to run away from her husband, and falls in with a camp of fellow sufferers, including the Fireman of the title.  There, she begins to learn more about the virus.

I really enjoyed that this novel was told from the perspective of the sufferers, rather than the healthy few who are seeking a cure / to exterminate those who have contracted the virus in the way of so many other end of the world novels.

The Fireman is a thoroughly brilliant novel, and I loved every page of it (which is good, because it’s huge!), this is a wonderfully complex novel that will appeal to fans of The Passage.


A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows

In A Gathering of Shadows, we return to Schwab’s brilliantly imagined four parallel Londons, and pick up the story of Lila, Kell and Rhy some four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic.

Predominantly set in Red London, A Gathering of Shadows focuses on the build up to the Essen Tasch – the elemental games – something akin to the Olympics for magicians.

I love everything about this series – the world building, the characters, the magic, the writing – and I can’t wait to read the final instalment – A Conjuring of Shadows – which will be published in 2017.


The North Water by Ian McGuire

The North Water

It is 1859, and the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship, is about to set sail for the hunting grounds of the Arctic sea.  Patrick Sumner is an ex-army surgeon who has joined the crew as the medic for the voyage.  Also aboard is harpooner Henry Drax – a drunk and savage brute of a man.

As the journey gets underway, it becomes clear that the purpose of the voyage is not quite the straightforward whaling mission that it has been made out to be, and what ensues is a thrilling tale of intrigue and action in the harshest of conditions.

Longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, this is a bleak and unsettling novel and I absolutely loved it.


Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight

Mia Corvere is sixteen years old, and, after six years of training, she is to be admitted to the Red Church – a secretive organisation of assassins.  Whilst adept at many of the skills this requires, she has additional motivation, as she seeks to avenge herself on those who hanged her father as a traitor, who threw her mother into a prison and who sentenced the ten-year-old Mia to a death that she narrowly managed to avoid.

But training at Red Church will not be a straightforward affair – only four of the inductees will become ‘blades’, competition is fierce and there’s no guarantee that she’ll survive the training process.

With a richly imagined world and an innovative magic system, Nevernight is a great start to a new trilogy.


The Empathy Problem by Gavin Extence

The Empathy Problem

At 32, Gabriel Vaughn seems to have it all, and has very little time for those who haven’t achieved as much as he has.

But then he is diagnosed as having a brain tumour.  Situated deep in his brain, it’s inoperable.  And he begins to notice a change in himself. Whereas before he could remain aloof, detached and uncaring of the general masses, he is now beginning to feel all sorts of new emotions, and begins to see that his lifestyle isn’t as rich as he once thought.

The Empathy Problem is a beautiful and heart-warming novel, and firmly establishes Extence as one of my favourite authors.


The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

the-hatching

The Hatching is an end of the world novel in which an ancient species of spider, one that has long lain dormant, is now causing havoc.  Told from a variety of perspectives, the reader is able to see how the spiders spread and the ensuing chaos, as well as the investigation into how to stop them.

This is a compelling read and highly entertaining, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel, Skitter, which will be published in 2017.

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

The Unseeing

Rating: ★★★★★

It is London, 1837, and the news on everyone’s lips is the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding day.  Murdered and dismembered, her body parts were scattered around London – gruesome parcels awaiting discovery.  Standing accused of the murder are her fiancé James Greenacre, and Sarah Gale – officially Greenacre’s housekeeper, although it’s no secret that the two were lovers.

The novel opens following the trial as Sarah is transported to Newgate, having received the death sentence despite her statement that she had no part in or knowledge of the murder.

Appealing for clemency, her case is assigned to young lawyer Edmund Fleetwood, who has just shy of two months to investigate and determine the role that Sarah played in the events, and whether her sentence is fair.  Yet Sarah is reluctant to speak, even now that she has another chance to argue her case, and it is down to Edmund to tease the details from her as the deadline for his recommendation approaches.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Sarah and Edmund, the reader begins to learn more about these two individuals, and how they’ve got to where they are now.  For Edmund, we see how his overbearing father has dominated his life, whilst for Sarah we start to sympathise with her harrowing background.  However, it’s clear that she is holding something back, and I found that my sympathy waxed and waned depending upon the latest snippet of information that I’d been provided with.  If she knows something that will help her case, why not share it – surely only the guilty would act in this way?  This frustration is shared by Edmund, who struggles to obtain the information he needs.

This is Mazzola’s debut novel, and is a fictional retelling of real events – Hannah Brown was murdered and dismembered in a case that became known as the Edgeware Road Murder, due to her torso – the first body part discovered – having been found there.  Mazzola has clearly spent a significant amount of time researching the case, and this shines through.  Whilst in reality Sarah’s role in murder were never fully determined, Mazzola does bring The Unseeing to a successful and, for me, unexpected conclusion.

I really enjoyed Mazzola’s writing style, which is clever without being unnecessarily flowery or overdone.  Her writing is incredibly evocative of both time and place, and it was easy to imagine walking through London, or being locked in a cell at Newgate as the door slams shut.  The conditions – both good and bad – felt realistic, and it’s clear that Mazzola has worked hard to give this novel an authentic feel.

There are obvious parallels between this novel and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and I think that The Unseeing will appeal to fans of both novels, as well as those who enjoy historical crime novels.

The Unseeing will be published on 14 July – many thanks to Ella Bowman and Tinder Press for the ARC.