There were two reasons I was attracted to this book: the front cover (Elsa Klever) which immediately made me think of primordial witchcraft; and, the fact that it was set in an isolated Irish town. I’m so glad these were enough for me to begin reading it, and it didn’t disappoint!
Sixteen year-old twin sisters, Maddy and Catlin move to Ballyfrann, an isolated Irish town nestled in the mountains, with their mother after her marriage to Brian, the owner of a castle in the town. Although the twins clearly have a very close bond, they have very different personalities. Catlin is outgoing, attention-seeking and quite self-absorbed whilst Maddy is more serious, introverted and reflective. The girls also have different perspectives on life, with Catlin superfically focussed on religious iconography whilst Maddy feels more connected to nature, and suspects she may be a witch. Their awkward moments and difficulties as they try to settle into school life are perfectly portrayed with deft, pertinent observations.
It does not take Maddy long to sense that there is something strange, and secretive, about Ballyfrann and its inhabitants. She sees her sister enter into an obsessive relationship with an older teenager, Lon, a relationship which threatens the sisterly bond. Is this just young love, or something more sinister? She discovers that Aunt Mamo, who lives with them, is a practising witch who suspects Maddy’s own latent witchcraft. Out in the woods, she makes an horrific discovery … a sacrifice to ward of greater evil? Oh, and there is the small matter of the missing girls … the many, many missing girls …
Catlin is not the only sister making new relationships. Maddy, who has always found it difficult to develop friendships, seems to find it somewhat easier to form friendships, albeit awkward ones, in Ballyfrann, perhaps because she belongs in the town. Her developing relationship with Oona, another native returning home, offers some relief from the darker nature of the main story line, although it is not without its complications. Maddy’s character drives the story. She is a very sympathetic protagonist: full of brutal honesty, uncertainty, confusion, guilt and incredible loyalty to her sister. To what lengths will one sister go to protect the other?
There is a pervading sense of foreboding throughout as Catlin’s insidious obsession with Lon grows, sacrifices are made and undertones of darkness are drip-fed into the narrative, culminating in the macabre.
This book is probably not for the faint-hearted as it does have some disturbing scenes; however, they are such an integral part of the plot and necessary to understandng the impossible life-changing choices forced upon Maddy that they can be justified, although uncomfortably so.
I was completely engrossed in finding out Ballyfrann’s hidden secrets, allowing its dark undertones to envelop me, and following Maddy on her journey to discover her talent, something all inhabitants of Ballyfrann have, being that which binds them together.