The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola @Anna_Mazz #BookReview #BlogTour

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.

Before I begin my review today I'd like to express my sincere apologies to the author, publishers and organiser for missing my slot on the blog tour. For some reason, I'd written the date down wrong and was horrified when I realised my mistake. Many thanks to Anna Mazzola, Tinder Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance copy of the novel.

I love reading books with a folkloric theme and as a book blogger how could I resist a novel called The Story Keeper?! My instincts were proved correct - this atmospheric historical tale is a captivating and rewarding read.
Audrey Hart has left London to take up a position on the Isle of Skye working for the reclusive Miss Buchanan as a collector of traditional folktales. Audrey's father doesn't approve of her interest in these stories and at a time when women were little more than chattels, her decision to turn her back on her family and on societal expectations is a bold one but means that she is viewed with suspicion by the Islanders. The setting of the novel is crucial to the story, evoking as it does a time when the Highland Clearances had resulted in abject poverty with many families torn apart by the actions of a few wealthy landowners. It's not just their lands and homes that have been stolen, the rich history of their language and with it, the stories they told is disappearing too, Gaelic is no longer taught in the schoolroom and the local minister and teachers don't approve of their fairy tales. It's no wonder then that the crofters are reticent to share their tales with a stranger despite her claims that she wants to preserve the stories. Throughout the book there are heartbreaking examples of the cruelty wrought on the community and their fear of displeasing those in power casts an oppressive sense of despair over proceedings.
Despite their misgivings, Audrey is able to gather some stories which are woven throughout the novel and they are a fascinating insight into the superstitious and often rather gruesome beliefs of the locals. Thanks to the influence of the Grimm brothers, fairy tales are increasingly becoming considered stories for children but Miss Buchanan wants to preserve the local folklore unchanged and in the original language. Though it's widely known that fairy tales were dark and often violent, the stories here are particularly disturbing because they don't have the clear moral warnings of the childhood tales. The story of the Slaugh, a bird-like creature who takes young girls is especially terrifying given what ensues.
As the novel progresses, the line between what is real and what is mythical becomes increasingly blurred and Audrey begins to doubt her own mind as she tries to discover what lies behind the strange disappearance of young girls on the island. The mystery is a compelling one and proves to be as dark and twisted as a fairy tale. The crofters may have their deeply held superstitious beliefs but they also risk the wrath of the local priest who preaches that the old stories are at odds with their religion. This multi-layered novel exposes the difficulties faced by a community undergoing massive changes to their livelihoods as they struggle to survive. Their old ways are disappearing as their neighbours are increasingly choosing - or are forced - to emigrate but they fear incurring the anger of the fairies as much as the humans who exert their control over their meagre existence.
One of the most important subjects explored in the book is the role of women in society with Audrey often left feeling powerless by the structural inequalities of the time. As much The Story Keeper is about the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the young girls on Skye, it is also about Audrey's search for her own truths - what happened to her mother and who is the woman she wants to become?  During the course of the book, we learn more behind her decision to leave London but as she meets with similar obstacles on the island as we are reminded again of how women were diminished and disregarded by the attitudes towards them. She is a wonderful character who is compelled to intervene when she sees injustices despite it meaning she is placed in extreme danger herself and I particularly enjoyed her relationship with the courageous kitchen girl, Mairi who has faced even greater hardships than Audrey.
The Story Keeper is a richly engrossing novel which incorporates a disturbing and atmospheric Gothic mystery with a searing examination of the period particularly regarding the loss of local traditions and the restrictions placed on the poor and on women of the time. A poignant, thought-provoking and highly recommended read - I loved it!

The Story Keeper is published by Tinder Press and can be purchased from the following;
Amazon UK

Don't forget to check out the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
photo credit: Lou Abercrombie
Anna Mazzola's first novel, THE UNSEEING, was published to critical acclaim in 2016. She is a criminal justice solicitor and lives in London with her husband and two children.
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