Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the word-of-mouth folk tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories.
Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters tell her that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl has disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the spirits of the unforgiven dead. Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but then she is reminded of her own mother, a Skye woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It seems there is a link to be explored, and Audrey may uncover just what her family have been hiding from her all these years.
I don’t know what it was about this book that drew me to it instantly but I’m so glad I took a chance and gave it a read. I absolutely loved this book, from the setting to the characters to the story itself, it was so atmospheric and draws you in bit by bit. The protagonist, Audrey Hart is intelligent, strong and compassionate and I really enjoyed her character from start to finish. Audrey starts off as a young woman desperately seeking her independence and a respite from a troubling situation in London and her overbearing family. During her time on Skye, she starts investigating the folklore and stories of the crofters and starts believing there is more to these stories than meets the eye…
An amazing part of the story was the setting of Skye. The windswept fields, isolated crofts and raging seas aids in creating such a heady atmosphere of foreboding and the supernatural. The air of suspicion and superstition here makes Skye seem like a setting where any one of the dark and gruesome folktales could be true, especially the one regarding the Sluagh aka the spirits of the restless dead, a flock which spirit people away, never to be seen again. I also found the influence of the church here to be so eye opening, seeing the ways in which Scottish culture was condemned by the church and the ways in which they tried to stamp these practices and beliefs out. This element rings true from what else I know historically about the influence of the English in Scotland and other parts of the world.
As well as Skye being atmospheric, the house in which a lot of the action takes place is a crumbling house perched high up on a cliff, Lanerly Hall. From the moment Audrey steps in, there is a hushed air of secrets and a past which her host family – The Buchanans – are trying to hide. Ranging from Miss Buchanan, her housebound employer who is reclusive and strange to Alec Buchanan, her nephew who is straying away from tradition and hides his own demons. I always like when a book has a strong focus on a set of a few key characters and really builds them up and allows us to understand their motivations. In this regard, Mazzola does an exceptional job of making us suspicious of them, then grow to trust them and then our expectations are subverted all over again.
While this is definitely historical fiction, I would also classify it as a thriller or mystery. At first while Skye is foreboding and Audrey is still getting her bearings, there seems to be nothing amiss. However, a few days into her stay when a body washes ashore and then another girl goes missing, Audrey sees it as her duty to find out what is happening. Is it really the Sluagh as the crofters believe? Or is it an all too human cause? This central mystery kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat. As well as the disappearances on Skye being the primary focus, there is also a mysterious death in Audreys past that is explored. I enjoyed the way past and present came together here. There were so many twists and turns and the final section had the perfect level of suspense and tension and the reveal and subsequent resolution was deeply satisfying in my opinion.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Story Keeper and I can see myself re-reading it in the future many times. It was the perfect blend of mystery, folklore in a deeply atmospheric and skilfully written package. I definitely want to read more of Mazzolas work and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of her other work The Unseeing.
★★★★★– 5 Star Rating
Until next time,