Thanks to Tor and NetGalley for granting me an eARC of this book. I’ve been looking forward to it since I first heard about it because I know Kathleen Jennings as an amazing illustrator of equally amazing books. Naturally, I needed to know if her writing was as great as her illustrating. This is like folktales meet Australian Gothic and it turns out I’m really into that.
by Kathleen Jennings
Published: Tor, July 28th 2020
Ebook: 176 pages
My rating: 7,5/10
Opening line: Once, somewhere between the Coral Sea and the Indian Ocean but on the way to nowhere, there was a district called-oh, let’s call it Inglewell.
In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes her question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.
A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles.
In these pages Jennings assures you that gothic delights, uncanny family horror, and strange, unsettling prose can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun.
Holly Black describes as “half mystery, half fairy tale, all exquisitely rendered and full of teeth.” Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own.
After an entirely too long, too dense, and too flowery opening chapter, this book has many great things to offer. We meet Bettina Scott, a prim young lady of nineteen who mostly steers away from other people and has her mother’s voice in her head, reminding her to behave like a lady. I got major Shirley Jackson vibes in those first chapters because while Bettina is our protagonist, we can’t be sure if she is entirely trustworthy. Or all there, really. Things get going when a mysterious letter arrives, addressed to Bettina, but using her former nickname, Tink. It slowly turns out that her two brothers have left and her father has gone missing a while ago. He may be dead or just disappeared, but so far, Bettina didn’t feel the need to investigate or even ask questions. Because that’s not ladylike, now is it?
But, as there would be no story if things were different, she and two people who behave like they used to be Bettina’s friends, take on a journey to find out what happened. To Bettina’s dad, to her brothers, and to their own missing or mysterious family members. Trish and Gary seem to know a lot more about Bettina than she does herself and it takes the entire book for that haze over Bettina’s mind to slowly lift. I’m not saying any more than that because spoilers.
What you get in Flyaway is not only a mystery, but also lots of folktales. Because the town of Inglewell is populated by many strange characters, all of whom have a past, all of whom have relatives who have seen strange things, who tell old tales of demon dogs, bone horses, the megarrity! And don’t think that these interspersed tales are just window dressing either. Each little fairy tale-like glimpse we get feeds into the larger narrative and paints the picture of a place filled with myth and wonder and things that go bump in the night. Needless to say, as a fairy tale lover, I soaked up each and every one of those tales and was all too delighted to see how they all fit together at the end.
There are enough hints throughout the story to help you figure out certain things for yourself before they are revealed. But Jennings wrote this book cleverly enough for some things to only make sense at the very end, for all the puzzle pieces to fit. She is also a master of atmosphere. Although I thought her introductory chapter was simply too much, I loved what she did with the rest of the book. Inglewell felt alive, filled with secrets and old stories told during long nights, ancient rivalries and superstition. For a novella-sized story, that’s quite a feat!
I’m sure there are things that could be improved here, but please don’t let the first chapter keep you from reading this book. I, for my part, will be keeping both eyes open for whatever Jennings decides to publish next. She is not just a great illustrator but definitely also a fantastic writer!
MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Great!