A young girl struggling to make England her home finds that there’s a lot more to her adopted country, and her own heritage, than she realised in fantasy stalwart Paul Kearney’s (The Sea Beggars series) latest novel.
The girl is Anna Francis, a young Greek immigrant living in Oxford in the Twenties with her father, a distant, increasingly penniless alcoholic who is caught between trying to Anglicise what’s left of his family and find justice for the awful things that forced them from their home and took Anna’s mother from them.
When Anna witnesses a murder on the marshes one night, she discovers that there is much more to Oxford than pubs, students and the Ashmolean Museum, and that she and her father might be in terrible danger. Can she trust her new lupine friend Luca?
Kearney has created a wonderful narrator in Anna. She’s clever without being a know-it-all, she’s emotional without being drippy, she’s strong but still flawed, and her perspective on the world is a pleasure to read.
The book is at its strongest as it’s beginning to introduce the elements of danger into her life, while she’s still trying to understand her father’s rejection of their heritage and the rules of this new place, and the author makes great use of Oxford and surrounding countryside.
Once he introduces Luca and the mysterious band of gypsies, some readers may feel some of that nuance gets lost, but the mythology is well crafted and he creates two intriguing factions for Anna to get caught between. Our time spent with Anna also means that there’s a real emotional impact when things go wrong.
There’s a bit of a rush to the end as a fair few plot threads are left unresolved for further stories, but Kearney establishes a vivid world that’s very easy to get lost in.