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.
That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.
This book is not what I was expecting, and sadly not in a good way.
Normally I think of fantasy as a story-driven genre. The language can be elevated (like in The Last Werewolf) but the plot never stops.
In The Wolf in the Attic, though, the plot doesn’t even start until the 25% mark. There are some Odd Goings On, the sort that usually build to a crescendo, but each is forgotten for fifty pages or more. At 25% the story starts at a leisurely stroll and around 50% it finally gathers enough speed to see you through to the end of the book.
If you love pretty language you may not even notice the dragging action. Kearney does a great job giving Anna some beautiful lines and insights that feel natural despite her young age:
But we cannot choose what we remember and what we forget. All the lovely bright moments of our lives get forgotten except for remnants here and there, like the leaves blown from a tree in the autumn, and the terrible things, they stick with us forever, as bright and raw as the day they happened.
I noticed, however, that nearly all the pretty parts were quaint Britishisms (“I tramp down the road”) or similes (“The song is… as piercing and beautiful as a sunlit shard of ice”). Nothing wrong with either, but I would have liked more variety.
One of the most troubling unexpected elements, for me, was the religious tone. Anna’s journey is set up as a struggle between good people and bad people… I’ll let you guess which side god is on. I was ready to cheer when one character declared himself an atheist, but he went on to say, “And I pray too, from time to time. It is a thing I cannot help. It is a need that is embedded in us all. That is man’s condition.” So you, agnostic reader, your lack of faith is unnatural.
Boo, book. Boo.
The relationship that develops between Anna and Luca is cute but without a strong foundation. Someone makes a life-changing decision based on it but the choice doesn’t feel earned.
The more central characters are to the story the better they are drawn, which makes sense. That being said I would have liked some more depth to the secondary characters, as they exist for one purpose each – to guide Anna, or to hate her, or to give her a reassuring smile. Only the governess kept my interest, as she both rapped Anna’s knuckles and showed her kindness.
One peeve at werewolf books in general – why do they reduce women to a womb? The issue is dealt with well here, for which I am thankful, but it keeps nosing its way into the genre.
Finally, we have the end which, frankly, gave me whiplash. The happily ever after is nice if you don’t think about it too long, which may be why things wrap up so quickly. It’s a deus ex machina, remembering that ‘deus’ means ‘god’. God is good, so everyone’s happy. The end.
Even though The Wolf in the Attic a fantasy/paranormal book it ended up firmly in the “not for me” column. However, if you have a thing for language and don’t mind religion in fiction it may just be your thing.
Thanks to Rebellion Publishing and NetGalley for providing a review copy.