‘My idea is to create a collection of fairy tales and folklore that works upon the model they initiated in the Household Tales. I want to go further than them, however. … What I will produce will be pure, the original language of the peasants, the true magic. That is why it’s vital that whoever collects the stories does so in a way that will record the primal language and bring it back to me in a raw state. Nothing is to be added, omitted or altered. Do you understand?’

Audrey stared at her. ‘Are you saying that you require me to gather the stories myself?’

Miss Buchanan looked up. ‘Of course’.”


Anna Mazzola’s novel The Story Keeper is a lovely Gothic affair set in 1857. As the book opens protagonist Audrey Hart has left London and her cold, controlling family and is travelling, by boat, to the remote Scottish island of Skye. She has been hired by the aristocratic Miss Buchanan to collect and record local folk stories and fairy tales.

The Highland Clearances have resulted in devastation and the forced emigration of people from the island and Miss Buchanan believes it important that the old stories and ways aren’t lost. However, from the start, the crofters are suspicious of Audrey, as a woman and an outsider. But Audrey is linked to Skye: her mother, a keeper of stories herself, loved the island and died there many years before.

When a body washes ashore and other young islanders disappear, Audrey doesn’t believe the locals who blame restless spirits able to turn themselves into the birds which darken the skies. But if that’s not the explanation, what is? Why are people vanishing? What follows is essentially a historic murder mystery, mired in the Gothic tradition, interwoven with local lore.

This is an interesting book, not least because Mazzola is mistress of detail and establishes her characters, the period and the atmospheric locale well. Skye provides a darkly brooding beauty of a hinterland, the perfect place for such crimes to occur. And the disempowerment of the local people and disregard for women generally, mirrors Audrey’s own experience, as a young, unmarried female in Victorian Britain, with no real rights or standing.

Mazzola, whose writing I so admired in the Word For Freedom anthology last year, doesn’t disappoint. The Story Keeper is a compelling read.


The Story Keeper | Anna Mazzola | Tinder Press | £8.99

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Acknowledgements: Quote at the beginning of the review © The Short Storyteller Ltd 2018. Many thanks to Sian Devine and the publisher for sending us a review copy. Photography © The Literary Shed 2019. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:The Woolgrower’s companion‘; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper –indie publisher, Orenda, does it again‘; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;We should all be feminists’; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng’s rising star’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper – indie publisher Orenda does it again‘; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry‘; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 trailer); The beauty of Sara Taylor’s The Shore’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.