Novel: Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle | Goodreads
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books (PRH)
One stormy summer night, Olive and her best friend, Rose, begin to lose things. It starts with simple items like hair clips and jewellery, but soon it’s clear that Rose has lost something bigger; something she won’t talk about.
Then Olive meets three wild, mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel and Rowan. Like Rose, they’re mourning losses – and holding tight to secrets.
When they discover the ancient spellbook, full of hand-inked charms to conjure back lost things, they realise it might be their chance to set everything right. Unless it’s leading them towards secrets that were never meant to be found . . .
Spellbook of the Lost and Found was one of my most anticipated reads for the fall season, especially considering how much I loved The Accident Season. Although the two titles are distinct, they share the same atmospheric qualities that I prefer in my autumnal fiction. Moïra Fowley-Doyle has a voice that transcends.
The novel starts on the night of a town-wide Irish bonfire — a hazy, murky sort of night in which the narration takes on a collective self. It reminds me actually of the festival scene from The Scorpio Races if anyone is familiar. It feels brutal and yet homey. The narrator then speaks in terms of “we,” as if the characters are all young and reckless and don’t give a damn. There’s a sense of people spilling into each other and a timelessness that frames the narrative.
I have to start by describing the mood. It’s dark and dizzying. You get a sense of the unknowable creeping past. But it’s also cozy and magnetically pleasant. There’s a poeticism to every line. Some of them are definitely underline-worthy. It retains the “brand” of sorts of Fowley-Doyle’s writing, but not a carbon copy of her first novel. She put it well in her guest post on Words Like Silver a few days ago:
I wanted a mix of songs that were dark and eerie and earthy, but also that would be the kind the girls would dance to around a bonfire at night. I chose a lot of the same artists as I did for the Accident Season playlist (The Black Cat and Whiskey Moon Masquerade Mixtape) because they’re some of my favourites and also because I feel like there is a similar dark, dreamy, folky atmosphere to both my books. But where the music I chose for The Accident Season was all wolves and rivers, the songs for Spellbook of the Lost and Found are all about forests and fire.
Her atmosphere only gets sharper and more gorgeous in her sophomore novel. Additionally, another strength of hers has always been her characters.
In hindsight, I wish that the synopsis had more clarity. Although the plot focuses on the characters mentioned — Ivy, Rose, Rowan, Olive, Hazel — there’s a clear emphasis. It’s divided among the perspectives of Olive, Laurel, and Hazel, who unequivocally feel like the main characters.
Other reviewers I’ve read have mentioned that the voices seep into each other, which I found to be accurate. The distinctions between Hazel, Olive, and Laurel aren’t particularly clear; they love and fight over the same things. Because of the slippery nature of the mood, I didn’t particularly mind. It added to the eeriness. I do, however, wish the names had been kept clearer because they were difficult to keep track of: all named after trees and plants.
The characters themselves are ethereal and fascinating while still being warm. There’s Olive, the family gal looking after her little sister and best friend. Thirsty to just be involved in something. Rose, the enigmatic but messy girl who blows bubbles because she’s trying to quit cigarettes. There’s Hazel, the tattooed rebel who looks at the world like an enemy. Rowan, the freckled brandy-drinking brother. Ivy, who slips in and out of the scene like an afterthought. Laurel and her crew are also relevant to the story, and she perhaps felt the most personable out of all of them.
The character interactions — particularly with Ash and Laurel and Holly in the picture — were well-constructed. I had flashbacks to Jellicoe Road, which feels like a strange comparison considering genre. But well-deserved. I liked the neatness of it, the surprise of a twist partway through.
I loved Olive’s family. Her dad spouts old poems and her mother wears Celtic rings and gives cryptic warnings. It was fabulous. I also appreciate the insight and understanding she has with her sister as the story progresses. Some of the discussions they have are meaningful, and gave me a better picture of who they were as people. I love that Olive is still able to have her own parallel adventures while coming back to the spine of her home life — that’s a lot of what my high school experience was like, and it feels like real family interaction is difficult to mirror in YA fiction.
Moïra Fowley-Doyle is also spot-on about her depiction of modern life, which is strange considering the timeless feel of her writing. I appreciate her ability to capture small, relevant details. For example, one of her characters doesn’t know the time in the morning because she’s fallen asleep with her phone charging downstairs. There are a lot of perceptive bits like that. Human specifics.
With that in mind, I’ve gone on a lot about her writing and characterization. She’s phenomenal with atmosphere. So what’s left?
The plot could be plodding at times. It follows the squad of teenagers as they try to piece together the found and missing items in their lives. Some of these are literal, while others are more metaphorical. (I really liked some of their discussions about those ideas rather than things.) While that particular motif could be hammered down a little too much at times, I still liked the cohesiveness of it. I love that she was able to wrap a theme so thoroughly around all aspects of her novel.
You have to be willing to give up a little momentum to appreciate the settings — abandoned houses, spindly woods, and the like. Some scenes feel as if they are purely character-building, while others feel plucked from a dream. Still, it never felt slow or sluggish for me. For my mood (sinking into a book with a flashlight after a long day at camp,) it was a perfect read. The imagery gets progressively more feverish. And I’m always impressed by books with the ability to surprise me.
One of the most skillful aspects of the book is its transition from magical to magical realism, some questions lingering unanswered. It plays with your mind a little bit but you can still sink into the story uninterrupted.
If you’re looking for a book to kickstart you into fall (when you’ve decided your summer ends,) I’d highly recommend Spellbook of the Lost and Found. It’s a swimmingly dark read, with plenty of detail. I enjoyed the engrossing way it plays with ideas. The girls are strong, the plot is engaging, and let’s be real: who doesn’t love a good bonfire story?