September 2014

Simon Sylvester - The Visitors

"...a real page turner of a novel. "

Nobody moves to the remote Scottish island of Bancree, and even fewer leave - but leaving is exactly what seventeen-year-old Flora intends to do. So when a mysterious man and his daughter move into the isolated Dog Cottage, Flo is curious. What could have brought these strangers to the island? The man is seductively handsome but radiates menace; and there's something about his daughter Ailsa that Flo can't help but feel drawn towards.

But people aren't only arriving on Bancree - they are disappearing too. Reports of missing islanders begin to unnerve the community. When a body washes ashore, suspicion turns to the strange newcomers on Dog Rock.

Convinced of their innocence, Flo is fiercely determined to protect her friend Ailsa. Could the answer to the disappearances, and to the pull of her own heart, lie out-there, beyond the waves? And what of the strange tales of the selkies (half human-half seal) that old Izzy, the local beachcomber, warns her about?

I'm not sure what category this book falls into; crime fiction, coming-of-age drama or fantasy fiction. There are many elements which make up 'The Visitors'. In cases like this the story can suffer due to a lack of direction but here, it works. Simon Sylvester has created a multi genre novel that is relatable, likeable and enjoyable.

Written in the first person, our narrator is seventeen-year-old Flora who is in her final year at school and desperate to leave the isolated island she lives on with her mother, stepfather and half-brother. She's a misfit and alone. She's also like any other teenager and you'll remember yourself as a seventeen-year-old at times when reading this. Sylvester has created a well-rounded protagonist. In doing so he has crafted a real page turner of a novel.

At times the crime element in the story (people going missing) is side-lined as Flora battles with school bullies, an ex-boyfriend, meeting new friend Ailsa and the folk tales of Scotland's history. However, it is so richly written that you almost don't mind. You want Flora to escape the island and get her own life; you want her to succeed. The crime is almost an added bonus.

This is Simon Sylvester's debut novel and his high standard will be difficult to match for book two. I enjoyed the multi-genre angle and I hope he continues in the same way for further novels. His sense of setting and pace is spot on and the next time you see a seal swimming in the sea, you'll look at it through different, cautious, and sympathetic eyes.

Reviewed by: M.W.

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