British Fiction Focus

The Good Wolf

Next week sees the release of Riding the Unicorn, the third of three resplendent reissues of Paul Kearney’s very earliest efforts. Like A Different Kingdom and The Way to Babylon before it, Riding the Unicorn in enrapturing—and hats off to the folks at Solaris for giving it and its previously out-of-print predecessors space in today’s marketplace, complete with clever new cover art by the fabulous Pye Parr.

“Like Robert Holdstock, Ursula [K.] Le Guin and Philip Pullman, Kearney pushes back the boundaries of what fantasy can actually do,” explains the aforementioned imprint’s Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Oliver. “Yes these stories are strange, yes they are speculative—but they are also very human, and that is what makes Kearney one of the most vital authors in genre.”

And hot on the heels of these repackaged classics comes The Wolf in the Attic: “a poignant and touching story” which marks “an exciting new chapter in Kearney’s career.”

Appropriately, the Northern Irish author’s first fantasy since Kings of Morning in early 2012 takes place in the past:

In 1920’s Oxford a little girl called Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea. Anna remembers a time when Agamemnon came to tea, and Odysseus sat her upon his knee and told her stories of Troy.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to have it recalled.

She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, and creates worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories.

And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A Romany boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

In this way she meets the only real friend she will ever know.

I don’t think The Wolf in the Attic’s cover art is quite final. Even so, it sure looks pretty good:

Back in early February, when literary agent John Jarrold reported that Solaris had commissioned the novel, Kearney talked about how The Wolf in the Attic came together:

“This story has been rattling around in my head for a long time. The genesis of it was a visit to Turkey some years ago, when I saw the magnificent ruins at Ephesus. I knew the ancient history of Asia Minor quite well, but its more recent reincarnation as Turkey was pretty much a mystery to me, so I started reading into it. The one event that really stuck in my mind during my research was the sack of Smyrna in 1922, a ghastly, shameful catastrophe that the world has completely forgotten about. The more I read about the forced exodus of the Ionian Greeks, the more I felt I wanted to say something about them. But how? I put the idea to one side.

“Then, several years later I went back to Oxford for the first time in almost two decades. The place I had known as a teenager was both similar and jarringly different to the memories I had been holding on to, and I had the oddest sense of being dislocated, ghost-like, remembering places and things that no longer existed. That powerful, stubborn mental grasp of a place that was no longer there in some respects made me think about the tenacity of memory, and the way it can mislead and deceive.

“Finally, back at home, I was simply walking the dogs along the beach, and the character of Anna came to me in a rush. All those dislocated and disparate factors seemed suddenly to mesh, and I had the heart of a story unlike any other I’ve ever tried to tell.”

Fascinating, how these things can happen.

In his twenty year career, Paul Kearney hasn’t let me down to date, so I have high hopes for this one, folks. Roll on The Wolf in the Attic’s proposed period of publication, namely next summer, says Solaris—some months ahead of the expected autumn 2015 window stated by the author’s agent. Talk about icing on the cake!


Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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