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Book Review: The Unmaking of Ellie Rook by Sandra Ireland

What starts as one young woman’s summons home in the aftermath of her mother’s death at a local beauty spot, steeped in legend, quickly becomes something altogether darker and more troubling.

A single phone call from halfway across the world is all it takes to bring her home . . . ‘Ellie, something bad has happened.’

Desperate to escape her ‘kid from the scrapyard’ reputation, Ellie Rook has forged a new life for herself abroad, but tragedy strikes when her mother, Imelda, falls from a notorious waterfall. Here, according to local legend, the warrior queen Finella jumped to her death after killing a king. In the wake of her mother’s disappearance, Ellie is forced to confront some disturbing truths about the family she left behind and the woman she has become.

Can a long-dead queen hold the key to Ellie’s survival? And how far will she go to right a wrong?

Sandra Ireland has made use of folklore before in her writing but nowhere is it more inextricably linked to her modern-day story than here in The Unmaking of Ellie Rook. Ellie was named for the Queen whose escape from those pursuing her became the stuff of legend.

It’s a story her mother, Imelda, told her time and time again, almost as if in doing so she was strengthening her for the trials to come and binding an enchantment around her. Yet the life Ellie left behind her and to which she now returns is far from enchanted or romantic, and she will need to channel all the courage of her namesake in order to deal with some very real demons.

This is the story of a family living on the edge in so many ways: they are the outsiders, living a secluded life on their own rural compound, and subject to the irrationality of controlling rules and behaviour. The forest and waterfall over which the Queen made her escape back on to their property and traces of that long-ago chase and more recent troubled memories still seem to stalk the land about them.

Sandra Ireland’s descriptions are poetic even when describing that which is stark and brutal. She conjures up this family and their forest dwelling incredibly well. I was willing Ellie on to stay strong, find a way to keep herself and her brother, River, safe, while also uncovering the truth behind Imelda’s disappearance before it too found its way into local lore and legend.

An immersive, evocative read where haunting folklore mirrors more contemporary brutality.

The Unmaking of Ellie Rook by Sandra Ireland is published by Polygon Books, an imprint of Birlinn Limited. It is out today and is available as an ebook and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK, buy it direct from the publisher or from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. Sandra Ireland was born in Yorkshire, lived for many years in Limerick, and is now based in Carnoustie. Her work has appeared in various publications and women’s magazines. She is the author of Beneath the Skin (2016) and Bone Deep (2018).

My thanks to the publisher and LoveReadingUK for providing me with a review copy.

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