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The Bird Singers by Eve Wersocki Morris

Title: The Bird Singers

Author: Eve Wersocki Morris

Genre: Magical realism

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 8th February 2022

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A thrilling debut from author Eve Wersocki Morris to send shivers down your spine, for fans of Michelle Harrison and Abi Elphinstone.

‘The whistling had started on their first night. At first, Layah thought it was bird song – a high thin sound which became a melody, rising and falling. And each night, it returned.’

Strange things have been happening to Layah and her younger sister, Izzie, ever since their mother dragged them to a rain-soaked cottage miles from anywhere in the Lake District: there is a peculiar whistling at night, a handful of unusual feathers appear on their doorstep and there are murmurings of a shadowed woman in the forest. And their mother is behaving very oddly. Layah is mourning the loss of her dear grandmother in Poland – and can almost hear her Babcia’s voice telling her the old myths and fairy tales from that magical place.

And as the holiday takes on a dark twist, Layah begins to wonder if the myths might just be real.

A thrilling debut from remarkable new talent, Eve Wersocki Morris.

~*~

Layah and Izzie are on a holiday in the Lake District with their mum whilst their dad attends a conference in Denmark. Yet it is not like any normal holiday. Ever since Babcia died, Dad has withdrawn and Mum is acting strangely too – dead birds keep turning up everywhere and Layah and Izzie are soon drawn into the mystery of L. Bellford, who was once a student at the local school. Layah, like her father, is mourning for Babcia, and finds a solace in looking back to the Polish myths and fairy tales she was once told. They’re just myths, right? That’s what Layah and Izzie think … until their holiday takes a dark turn.

Eve Wersocki Morris’s debut is chilling in all the good ways. It draws on mythology and fairy tales, and whilst being dark, is still engaging and not overly scary for younger readers, though sensitive readers might need to take their time or read it with someone. It is filled with magic and mystery, and strong female characters who drive their own destinies. Their father is at the periphery, a figure that is there but at the same time not, and one whom Layah wants to see again. The story is intricate and delicate, with lots of Polish traditions woven throughout that give the story a sense of authenticity for what it strives to represent, as well as opening the eyes of readers up to a different mythological and folk tale tradition than they might be used to.

As a lover of myths and fairy tales, I like to collect and read about the myths and folk tales from as many cultures as possible, seeing what is different, and at the same time, any similar tales from the various traditions across the world, as there are some tales that have similar archetypes but are presented differently depending on which tradition and culture the tale in question is from. Eve has seamlessly paired her Polish traditions with English characters and given us a story that is unique but also, one that reflects a culture and people many may not be familiar with. It’s made me want to seek out a book of Polish folk tales or myths and read it – as I have done for many different fairy tale traditions.

This book engages with the contemporary world – pre-COVID (early 2000s or 2010s from what I could tell), and has villains hiding in plain sight. Layah and Izzie befriend James Westwood, as their mother seems enamoured with his father – for reasons that aren’t clear, and all seems very unusual – which lends itself to the themes and mood of this novel, where things are not quite what they seem, and where things are held back, or dangled in front of the characters and the reader until the right moment, when everything comes to a crescendo. As the novel dips in and out of the present and the past, and a perspective that for a good chunk of the novel is an unknown, sinister entity that sent chills down my spine, yet fit the novel so well, I can’t imagine this story without it.

I really enjoyed this story, getting to the point where I just sat reading one afternoon because I wanted to find out what happened and what was going on with everything. I wanted to know how Layah and Izzie solved the mystery of L. Bellford, about their family and everything in between, and whilst I felt there were some unanswered questions at the end of the novel, it still felt like a fitting ending to the story, and one that I hope others will enjoy as well.

A great debut!

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