Fen and Rey are twin sisters; Fen fiery, impulsive, outspoken but underneath a confident exterior she is anxious. Rey is quiet – indeed she almost never speaks. She is artistic – and fearful. They are orphans – different from the others in the House on the edge of the woods. Even their names have been given them by Lissa. Their story: they were found curled up with a fox. Lissa even has the scar where the fox bit her. Their favourite game is Imagine… imagine their mother. Setting out to find their truth Fen and Rey must look beyond the stories they have woven round themselves to confront a world that is rich, complicated and unexpected. The truth can hurt – but can ultimately heal.
Katya Balen can write. Her prose flows beautifully, easily. Her descriptions are rich and concise, her language direct and immediate as Fen tells the story. The reader is drawn into the world of Fen and Rey from the first sentence and is held to the final page. We walk with the girls as they find their way through the winter woods, we see the blood ‘beeding on the skin’ when Fen is scratched by brambles, we experience Fen’s sense of loss when she and her sister quarrel. This is a tale about recognisable sisters growing up. However, though the setting feels very real, we never find out where we truly are. It is a House on the edge of a wilderness. In this it is different to Balen’s previous novels and for some this may make it less satisfying. However, her ability to capture the emotions and attitudes of her young protagonists is faultless. This is not a fairy tale, but stories are at the heart of the narrative – stories we tell ourselves, the stories others tell, mixing truth and imagination. As befits this novel the production is excellent with well-spaced font while the artwork by Barry Falls provides a perfect punctuation to the text. This is a book to recommend.