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When I came across The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney, and it promised to “enchant readers of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman”, I knew I had to read it. Stylistically, it’s not really similar; near as I can tell, this claim is based on the fact that both Lewis and Tolkien have cameos in this novel, and Anna Francis is a young girl living in Oxford and going on adventures, similar to Lyra in Pullman’s His Dark Materials. So, although I thought that particular assertion was a bit of a stretch, I was still pleasantly surprised by this book.
The story is written from 12-year-old Anna Francis’s point-of-view, and leads the reader to constantly wonder how reliable of a narrator she is; it’s never clear how much of her experience is true and how much is childish fantasy, invented to escape the horrors of her life. Anna is a lovable heroine, spirited and adventurous, and it’s not hard to feel genuine sympathy for her. In fact, there were a couple points in the book that had me in tears.
Kearney’s prose is breathtaking, full of vivid descriptions and wanderings that are perfectly suited to the musings and imagination of a child. Anna’s wide-eyed wonder at her surroundings is perfectly conveyed, such that the reader is able to see the world through her eyes. While not a plot-heavy story by any means, the whimsical, fairy-tale quality of the writing kept my interest throughout. The author pulls from a number of different mythologies in an interesting mash-up; my one issue there is that none are explored in any detail, just mentioned in passing. My only other major issue was as follows:
[toggle title=”Spoiler” load=”hide”]that the Romani end up being the villains. Considering the stigma that already surrounds this particular group of people, I felt that was an irresponsible choice on the author’s part. Although I suppose they are not technically Romani (they are this weird mishmash of Egyptian/werewolf lore), they do refer to themselves as such.[/toggle]
The addition of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to the story was amusing, but ultimately pointless to the story; it felt a little like name-dropping. Fans of the two writers might get a chuckle out of these scenes — especially the notion that Anna gave Tolkien the idea for Ents — but that’s it. If they were going to be included, I would have liked them to be more important to the story somehow; I could have even forgiven the author for taking liberties with the timeline if he had done so.
I found this book altogether enjoyable, with a only a few minor complaints; I could definitely see how the things I mentioned could hinder enjoyment for some people. For me, they did not, at least not especially. The story is not one that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but rather meanders along at a leisurely pace; the imagery, however, is wholly absorbing and mesmerizing. It’s enough to make me consider picking up another of Paul Kearney’s books, as well as hope there is a The Wolf in the Attic sequel in the future.