The Thief on the Winged Horse is the latest release from Kate Mascarenhas, author of the acclaimed debut The Psychology of Time Travel. Published with Head of Zeus, it is described as ‘a dazzling mixture of crime, romance, magic and myth’.
The premise behind this book is very original, which is what really attracted me to it, aside from the gorgeous cover of course. It tells the story of the eccentric Kendrick family and their doll-making business, one steeped in superstition and fantasy. To own a Kendrick’s doll was beyond the means of many, but for those who could afford one, the dolls brought a very unique piece of magic into their lives. Each doll has it’s own very special emotion, one put there by the Sorcerers who work in the family business. No strangers are allowed to take up a job in the factory. A connection to the original founders has to be proven. The working community all live, and work, together on Paxton’s Eyot, where the original business was founded (For those of you, like me, who did not know what and an eyot is, it is a small island in a river or a lake and is also sometimes known as an ait.)
Persephone Kendrick has lived all her life on the eyot, never exploring the world at large. Her mother left when she was younger and now it is just herself and her father, Hedwig. Persephone remained with her father for reasons that do become clear as the story unravels, but she has had a difficult life with him. He is a raging alcoholic, now no longer employable at the doll factory, which is currently run by his brother, Conrad. Persephone has always dreamed of being a Sorcerer but recent tradition within the company dictates that only men have this very special talent. Persiphone, left to work in the shop, is determined to break that particular glass-ceiling and fulfill her ambition, her destiny. But there are many obstacles in her way. One day, a stranger, a young man, arrives into the shop requesting an audience with Conrad. He claims to be related to the family. Something like this is not a regular occurrence leading to mistrust yet also a certain curiosity. The boy clearly has talent. Could he be an undiscovered relative?
When the Paid Mourner, the family heirloom and the most notorious doll, one that is carefully locked away in Conrad’s home, is stolen, the family must come to terms with an impending change in their midst. Something is coming. Their world is about to be sent into turmoil. Could this be Persiphone’s chance, her opportunity to prove her abilities?
The Thief on the Winged Horse features many themes, including fantasy, sexism, substance abuse, romance, greed and, of course, mystery. This is a book that speaks of magic with dolls that can invoke emotions, sorcery, mystical masked parties with guests descending out of river boats and, of course, a Thief on the Winged Horse. I wanted more of this. But I never got to discover the full possibility of the dolls, their potential and their impact on people’s lives and I felt this was a missed opportunity for the author. Regarding romance. there was a tentative attempt but it was never fully fleshed out and I was left unfulfilled. Women’s rights is a very strong theme but, in this setting, it just didn’t seem to fit. The original founders of the doll factory were four sisters so it would have been wonderful to learn more about them and the origins of this rather unique business. Unfortunately I was also very confused about the century this was set in. I was expecting the 1800s, maybe early 1900s, but it is actually set in the modern era of mobile phones and the Tube.
The Thief on the Winged Horse is most certainly a very interesting read. It is clear that the author is bursting with ideas and has a wonderful imagination that is capable of going anywhere. There really is one other story, if not more, hidden somewhere in this book. The characters all have their own eccentricities and are well depicted, especially Hedwig. I felt a combination of frustration and sympathy for him as his story began to unfold.
The Thief on the Winged Horse is a very unusual, unique read and will appeal to readers with vivid imaginations and perhaps a better understanding of the genre than me. I’m looking forward to reading others’ insights and reactions to the book as it is definitely one that will raise a few questions and that is always a good thing.
(c) Swirl and Thread
Order your copy online here.