Anna Mazzola is a new name to me, but the description of this historic novel and the beautiful cover picture drew me to it. I should know better right – judging a book by its cover?! But from the outset this novel did not disappoint.
The style of writing is descriptive and atmospheric giving a real feeling of the extremities of an isolated, windswept Scottish isle in the nineteenth century. The landscapes are bleak, the weather tough and at times I could both feel and taste the surroundings. For a Londoner like Audrey the Isle of Skye is both a shock and yet invitingly different in its isolation – she wanted to embrace the huge changes in her surroundings and learn to understand how to live so far from mainland civilization.
Bubbling beneath the surface of the novel is an undercurrent of dark, Gothic suspense. In true Victorian style there are sinister brooding characters and an old, ghostly mansion where the elderly folklore collector resides. The story would not be complete without some paranormal incidents and inexplicable events which seem to be deeply entwined with the old folklore. But alongside this the author writes with historical knowledge and integrity as she describes the consequences of the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries – absentee landlords, the poverty of the crofting communities, the disease and a failing economy.
Ms Mazzola gave the lead roles to strong women, despite the era being patriarchal, and the main character Audrey grows in strength and stature throughout the novel. She knows her own mind – she is not deterred by the initial reluctance of the locals to accept her nor by the difficulties she encounters in trying to solve some mysteries surrounding the death of her own mother on Skye years before. Audrey fights against the constraints of Victorian society from the time she escapes London and the reasons for running, to the inaccurate assumptions made about her by the men on Skye.
Initially I wasn’t sure that I could get into the book, but within several chapters and the brewing of mystery, I was hooked. There are twists and turns throughout, some directly linked to local folklore and others to the characters and location, and enough suspense to drive the novel forward to some surprising conclusions.
If you enjoy a historical, atmospheric thriller then this is the book for you. I will be looking for the author’s other novels and this novel comes highly recommended.
I was fortunate to be given a copy of this book through TBC on Facebook and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
About the Author
Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime fiction. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown in the UK. The Times called it ‘sizzling’. The Mirror described it as ‘a brilliant debut.’
Her second novel, a dark fairy tale about a collector of folklore and missing girls on the Isle of Skye, will be published by Headline in July.
Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before accidentally becoming a criminal justice solicitor. She lives in Camberwell, London, with two small children, two cats and one husband.