There are innumerable good writers who struggle to gain wider recognition. Their style or content too non-formulaic for the average mainstream reader to latch on, they hover around the fringes, writing quality fiction, and occasionally attempt to write more familiar material in the hopes of gaining a readership that might be willing to check out their back catalogue. Paul Kearney has walked this road. Those who know his work are aware of the talent—the will to write something different in the face of popular trends, but eventually giving in and attempting to write something more familiar. His Macht trilogy of pseudo-Spartan-Persian novels gaining him some relative recognition, for the follow up effort Kearney decided to test his readers by returning to his roots. 2016’s The Wolf in the Attic is a return to more literary fantasy—and a welcome return, at that.
We are introduced to young Anna several years after her family emigrated from Greece to the UK in the wake of WWI violence. Only she and her father arriving on foreign shores, they live a life of poverty in the backstreets of Oxford, her father attempting to convert his political leanings into a means. Out late one night walking in the local fens, Anna is witness to a murder, and in her rush home, is confronted by the assailant. The young man just watching her, she eventually finds her way back, and things return to normal. The memories of the evening troubling, however, they are also alluring, and some time later Anna decides to revisit the fens. Further incidents occurring, it isn’t long after Anna begins to hear strange noises in their home’s attic, even as family tragedy looms ever closer.
The myths and legends of old Albion coming to life, The Wolf in the Attic looks at a coming of age through the beliefs of the English countryside. Not Arthurian rehash, Gypsies and Druids are at the core, resulting in a primitive, pagan feel to the storyline that fully complements the fundamental lessons Anna learns and the profound choice she has regarding which direction to take her young life. Story fitting theme and vice versa, Kearney subtly, successfully marries an engaging tale to less commonly known fantasktika—and even has room for cameos by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Anna walks the streets of 1930s’ Oxford.
The Wolf in the Attic seems a shoo-in for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards nominee list for 2016, and overall is one of the best fantasy novels of the year. It’s usage of English and Gypsy legend, the quality of its setting, as well as appearances by the setting’s contemporary mythmakers, all push the novel toward the award. Locking it in place is the quality of prose, escalation of storyline, and overall substance to Anna’s plight. You may not know the name Paul Kearney, but trust me, his novel, and back catalogue, are waiting to be discovered by readers looking for something beyond the same-old-thing.