Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley

This edition published in April 2011 by Bloomsbury. First published in 1999.

At the request of Lord Merton, Corinna has been asked to abandon her position as Folk-Keeper for Rhysbridge Home to take it up again in the bigger and grander Cliffsend Manor in the Northern Isles, where the Folk are said to be exceptionally wild. She is to spend her days in the dark cellar, placating the folk and taking their furies upon herself. But gradually Corinna will learn that the folk are not the only ones with powers, and she will finally learn the truth about herself in the caverns and passages of Cliffsend. She must also deal with the jealousies and resentments of Sir Edward, and the easy charm of the red-haired Finian.
Read this one because of all the buzz Billingsley’s latest novel, Chime, was getting. Also because there were Folk and the chance of a sea creature or two, and gothic-style settings and a narrative voice with just the right amount of cynicism and acerbity. Corinna and the closest thing she has to a friend, Finian, are the real winners in The Folk Keeper. Great characters with a real chemistry and relationship pitched almost perfectly (except the end was a little rushed, I thought). I loved the presence of the Folk and the idea of a ‘Folk-Keeper’ although I agree with a few other reviews I read that this storyline and Corinna’s own personal story did not quite gel.
Loved the Folk in this one – there is something very appealing about characters you can’t see – their presence here shadows the pages of the book, giving it a lovely, at times creepy, magical feel. Sir Edward I really enjoyed as a character – he had some flesh to him, some baggage, and didn’t feel like just a token baddie. Corinna I also loved – she comes across as quite cold on paper but because we know what’s going on inside her head, we understand why she works to cultivate this image for herself. I enjoyed her little snide asides and dry commentary – it gave her a bit of spark. She is unapologetic – I like this. I like that Billingsley doesn’t feel the need to make excuses for her. Finian is also hard to dislike, mostly because we see he brings out positive sides to Corinna, in addition to his being easy-going and amiable. The way their relationship develops from friendship to love is refreshing in a YA market dominated by intense, two-second  all-consuming love. Other characters like Lady Alicia and Old Francis and even the hounds also feel like just enough.
Quite a whimsical little book and the language is perfectly suited to it.  There are some pretty turn-of-phrases – the book kind of dances along. There is a sense of it being passed on in whispers. Not usually a fan of narratives told through diary entries but it isn’t obvious here. What it does instead is add an immersive, confidential quality, entices you to lean closer and keep turning the pages. The Folk Keeper reads like a folktale, it has that classic feel to it, but it is also infused with touches of the gothic, and for the most part this works well.
Unique. Magical and just a little bit gothic. Definitely enough to make me want to read more of Billingsley’s work. Also don’t be fooled by the short length – this isn’t a breezy read. I recommend taking time to let all its little whimsies and intricacies sink in.


  1. Sounds and looks great. Love the idea of a book that 'dances along'. I have an old copy of Coraline (I bought it at Minotaur) with a cover remarkably similar to the top one. Useless info, i know, but there you go. x

  2. I love the top cover. It suits the feel of the book perfectly.