Solaris Books, May 10, 2016.
In the 1920s, young Greek refugee Anna Francis lives in Oxford with her father. Fleeing the Turkish invaders during the war, they lost Anna’s mother and brother in the escape to England – and Anna’s father has never recovered from their loss. He neglects his daughter in favour of drinking and gambling, and twelve-year-old Anna is left to wander the streets alone.
Anna finds herself in all kinds of dangerous situations, witnessing a murder and running into a group of Romani transients. They deny being gypsies, but in fact they might be something much more ancient and terrifying. The group includes an older boy named Luca with whom Anna has an immediate connection – but she will lose everything she knows in exchange for Luca’s friendship.
Anna has a love of mythology, interpreted through a childlike imagination. She is only twelve, but seems more mature, and it’s unsettling to remember that she is actually so young to be in such adult situations. Anna’s internal voice is strong, but the various conversations in the novel are stilted and unnatural. Her obsession with Greek mythology is interesting, but it doesn’t really correlate with the legends explored by the Romani and the Roadmen in this novel. The competing transient groups are a mish-mash of world folklore, and I found it very confusing. I think the only way to really lose yourself in the novel is to forget everything you know about real-world mythology and let Anna’s version stand on its own.
As I started reading, I thought this novel was going to be pure historical literature, but it was much more fantastical than I expected. There are cameos by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, but they don’t really add anything to the story, except to remind us that The Wolf in the Attic is inspired by these giants of the fantasy genre. As for the titular wolf, I thought he would be more of a metaphor – but in fact, there are many supernatural elements to the novel. My only problem was that these supernatural details seemed to appear rather suddenly in the second half of the novel. The story is slow to start, and then seems to turn into a completely different novel halfway through – the pacing is uneven, and hard to follow. I feel like this book is just build up for the rest of the series, and it was kind of disappointing to not see more plot and character development in this first book.
I received this novel from Solaris Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.