The small island of Anona holds its secrets well. Some dark and some light, all will be examined as Sondra Carstairs returns home to claim her birthright.
Stories of isolated communities are always prime ground for fun or horror, whether they be the good-natured anti-establishment folk of Great and Little Todday, or the insanely insular inhabitants of Royston Vasey. Small towns and their inhabitants seem to fit instantly into the mould of warm-hearted-yet-slightly-skewed. It is the sense of the familiar and the close-knit that is the strength of stories told there. The island of Anona, however, owes much more Stephen King than Compton Mackenzie.
The Lost Soul opens in suburban Adelaide as Sondra Carstairs, one-time inhabitant of the small Irish island of Anona, begins to be plagued by nightmares of her father and the nautical accident that killed him and drove her to live in the furthest place away she could find. Concluding that the nightmares were sent for a reason, she returns to Anona, not quite against her will, but with a sense of foreboding.
It is not misplaced. Anona is the ancient seat of the Keepers, members of the Carstairs clan whose forebears built the magical lighthouse that shines with the power of the moon. The Carstairs are tolerated by the islanders, but only barely and, when Sondra arrives, she finds herself in the middle of a fight for survival between her Aunt Agatha and the local psychic. For Sondra, returning to the island is a struggle, with the deaths of her parents looming large in her memory. Aunt Agatha is losing the fight however, and Sondra is needed to take over the mantle of the Keepers.
The Lost Soul is a study in contradictions. The author’s prose is delicious, with her descriptions of Anona and the sea giving the reader the sense they can smell the salt spray and feel the chill of a northern Atlantic storm. The story is held back however, by the author’s refusal to describe the Keepers, their powers or their purpose past a few blithe phrases; the reader finds themselves wondering when they are going to find everything out. This is ultimately frustrating, as we can never sympathise with a heroine who does not know her own strength. It is difficult to understand why she does not. Sondra lived on Anona until she was eighteen, yet she does not refer to this time at all, appearing to have memories of Aunt Agatha being a Keeper but no memory of what they are capable of.
There are many other mysteries which likewise go unanswered. The Lost Soul’s saving grace is the realisation that there will be a sequel, hopefully in which the mystery surrounding the death of Sondra’s parents, which drives her through the book, will be solved.
The Lost Soul is, at its heart, a story of discovery in the very best tradition of heartache and homecoming, of good versus evil, and a nice way to travel to a small island in the North Atlantic without leaving your loungeroom. Who could ask for more?
Reviewed by DC White
Rating out of 10: 7