I feel like I was slightly sold a pup (to coin a pun) with Paul Kearney’s new novel The Wolf In The Attic (published next week by Solaris, review copy by NetGalley). The synopsis of the novel places quite a bit of weight on it being set in 1920s Oxford, and featuring C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien, by any measure two of the towering figures who have shaped contemporary fantasy fiction. But what the publicity material for the novel doesn’t really make clear is that neither makes more than a cameo appearance in the novel.
The Wolf In The Attic is actually a coming of age tale about Anna Francis, a young refugee girl who escaped the fall of Smyrna with her father in 1922. They live in poverty in Oxford, while her father tries to seek compensation for all the refugees of Smyrna, and the prospect of resettlement. When Anna’s father is killed suddenly, she runs away rather than find herself sent to the workhouse.
Anna is torn between two cultures. She is Greek by birth and heritage, but is struggling to fit into the England of the 1920s. She faces racial abuse and prejudice from others. She feels pressurised to fit in as a ‘proper’ English girl, but feels she would be betraying her family and her cultural heritage if she did so.
This conflict between Anna’s Greek heritage and her adopted home of England is mirrored in what happens to her after her father’s death. She runs away to join the gypsies, who are also outsiders in England with a foreign heritage. They too face prejudice for their differences, both in terms of their race and their nomadic lifestyle. In particular, Anna is drawn to Luca, a teenage gypsy boy who is learning to come to terms with being a werewolf.
Although initially seduced by the romance of an itinerant gypsy life, Anna quickly finds that it is not all that she dreamed it would be. Its freedom comes at the price of a hard life outdoors, particularly in winter, and the gypsies are at war with the ‘Roadmen’, the custodians of indigenous English custom and magic. Inevitably, Anna gets caught up in their conflict and is forced to choose her future.
The Wolf In The Attic is a charming novel about growing up, prejudice and living on the margins of society.
Goodreads rating: 3*