Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.
But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.
I’d heard of Paul Kearney before, but I’d never read him. And seeing as he is Irish I figured I really should give him a try so when I saw this in the library I picked it up. And I really loved it. It’s a small story, in a way, the story of one girl making her way in a strange land. A refugee who doesn’t really remember the home she has left. A girl who has lost so much and has no idea where she is going. And then she meets Queenie and Luca and maybe she has found a future?
It is a wonderful blend of historical fiction with myth and fantasy. But if you have read the blurb and think this is a book all about C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, then think again. Yes they make an appearance, but they are cameo roles not starring ones, so in a way I think they shouldn’t have been mentioned at all. They add colour and atmosphere, and add to the whole world. Oxford at the end of the 1920s.
There’s a lot to love in this book. The writing is so immersive. It’s a joy to read. The first half is all Anna, only gradually does the supernatural intrude onto her life. You may even start to wonder when the story is going to really get started. I loved the slow build though. It feels like a fairytale before the fairy godmother shows up, all the hard work and none of the magic.
The second half is much more mythic in its supernatural aspects. Witches and Horned Gods! awesome.
The ending is a somewhat open, so maybe there is a possibility of a sequel. I’d be happy if this was a standalone, or if there was a followup. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for more books by Kearney in the future.
I also loved the cover of this edition. Such a simple idea but so well executed.