Audrey Hart travels to Skye and to the mansion of a reclusive folklorist to collect the folk and fairy tales of the local people. 

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 in the bay beneath Lanerly, and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared.

They believe the girls are victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds. At first, Audrey suspects that the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.


The Story Keeper is a gothic fiction novel set on Skye in 1857 and focuses on the character of Audrey, a young woman who has abruptly left her stifling life in London in order to pursue her career as a folklorist after responding to an advertisement in the newspaper. Audrey arrives at Lanerley Hall to meet her employer, Miss Buchanan, the sister of the laird who owns much of the land in the area but is immediately struck by its shabbiness. The elderly Miss Buchanan reveals she’s on a mission to record the local folklore before it disappears forever as the residents of the island are being displaced by the clearances.

Audrey’s mission is to get the locals to reveal their stories to her but she must first gain their trust and as an outsider that won’t be easy. As a guest of the Buchanans, Audrey is immediately mistrusted and her attempts to win over the locals are disastrous due to her lack of social skills. However, things suddenly when Audrey discovers the body of a young woman on the beach and learns she isn’t the first to go missing. The crofters soon begin to tell fantastic tales of the Sluaigh who abduct young women and take them to fairyland. Audrey finds the stories hard to believe but there is no denying the islanders are fearful and then Audrey begins to experience mysterious episodes that make her doubt her sanity.

The island of Skye is a magnificent backdrop for this novel as its stark landscape and dramatic weather patterns all heighten the tension. The folk tales and superstitions of the crofters are also threaded throughout the novel which create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. However, the author also doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of their lives as she describes the traumatic impact of the Highland Clearances and the events at Suisnish and Boreraig are based on real accounts.

The story isn’t just about folklore though as it also touches on the unjust treatment of women and how they are often stifled by the men in their lives. As a former teacher in a home for girls, Audrey witnessed the girls being sexually abused and brought it to the attention of the authorities but wasn’t believed. As a consequence, Audrey lost her position and her only future seemed to submit to a marriage with an older man arranged by her father. Audrey had other ideas though and the job advert comes at an auspicious time. The kidnapped girls also have their own tales of being abused by men and of bearing the consequences alone.

I enjoyed reading The Clockwork Girl last year and am working my way through Anna Mazzola’s other books in preparation for reading her new release in the Spring.