Book Review: Folk


folk cover


Written by Zoe Gilbert

256 pages

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 8th February 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows – the wounds and fears and furies of a village year.

On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to its lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure.

Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives.

A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.

Come back now, up the rocks that loom above the shore, to where the men and women of Neverness wait with their torches.

The sky above their heads is showing the first stars.The door of the day is nearly shut, but this is the hinge of the year itself. Days are shrinking, nights spreading. taste the fire and salt in the air.

The game has gone on long enough. The gorse wants burning. Her scent may be sweet when her blooms bake in the sun. She may hold their washing out to dry with her pinching fingers. but she has a temper, and she will skin you if you do her wrong.

The folk of Neverness want to hear her crackle, see her shrivel. They want to breathe her dying breath.

Wanted to read this as soon as I heard the summary – folklore and fantasy on a remote island where the magical becomes real. The cover is also beautiful and the synopsis made me think of Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick which I love.

When I started reading I struggled to follow at first, as each chapter follows different people on the island. Instead of a novel with a cohesive narrative, it seemed like a collection of short stories, linked by the folklore of the island, Neverness. Their stories, at first, seemed almost unconnected except through the appearance of certain characters on the periphery. However, as the book continued and the threads of the stories began to weave together, I was drawn into the fantastical, dark world that Zoe Gilbert has created.

This is not an easy read, but one I feel will benefit from rereadings. The author has clearly researched lots of different folktales and drawn on these when creating her world. At times I felt that I would have liked to have more of this world-building made explicit to help with pulling the stories together.

It feels like a bundle of threads which gradually pull tighter to reveal new facets and unexpected twists in each story.

Strange, magical and unsettling, highlighting the darker side of folklore and isolated island culture.

I ’ve heard it said, a strong wind can send a man’s mind sailing out of his head. it’s that way with horses. Perhaps a storm, the kind that shifts trees and blows out new caves, can do worse. A storm like we had, that autumn, might be enough to possess a person. it might send a girl’s sense skittering out of her head and leave only thunder in its place.

That would be one story. but i said i wouldn’t tell. i promised, and i’ve kept it. Nothing good would come of it, for folk would take the tale their own way.

What I liked: Remote island setting, fantastical language, the darker side of folklore.

Even better if: The narrative was more cohesive. I was drawn in by the end, but initially found this book very hard to get into.

How you could use it in your classroom: The writing is lyrical and poetic so I can imagine this book providing lots of points for discussion about the way language used can create a spell, gradually pulling the reader under the writer’s spell. However, I can’t imagine this being used successfully below A-level (age 17-18) so I would recommend it for your older readers.

(Thank you to Netgalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for my e-ARC)

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Lovely review! Good to know about the feel of the book. It’s on my TBR mountain. Glad to know what to expect going in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad you enjoyed the review and I hope it is helpful. I am planning a reread at some point as I feel like I would get much more out of it second time around!


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