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Retro Review: The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Genre: Fantasy/Folklore

Release Date: first published in 1999

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About the Book:

Fifteen-year-old Corinna Stonewall learned early on that boys had it easier. So she transformed herself into Corin and became a Folk Keeper. She writes in her journal and keeps the Folk tame, or as best she can.

One day Lord Merton arrives and summons Corin to his estate on Cliffsend. He tells her he knew her parents (Corin was left at an orphanage as a baby with no clue to her past). Lord Merton soon passes away and Corin travels to Cliffsend with Lord Merton's wife and cousin to become the new Folk Keeper. The Folk at Cliffsend are more terrible than what Corin has encountered before. The tricks she used before don't work and she is slowly discovering new powers at Cliffsend that will lead Corin to discover the truth about her past. But she must discover the truth before anyone else does because the truth will put her in danger.

GreenBeanTeenQueen Says: Franny Billingsley has a new book coming out this month called Chime, which has everyone raving and already has six starred reviews. The kidlit world was buzzing with news of a new book by this author and I felt very out of loop-I had never heard of Franny Billingsley before! But then I realized it's been 11 years since her last book and I was in high school when it was released, so I felt a bit better about not knowing anything about it. While The Folk Keeper was critically acclaimed, it didn't generate a lot of buzz outside of the book world. So I decided to catch up and see what all the buzz was about.

The Folk Keeper is a strange little book. The story is told in journal entries and it has the feel of an old folktale or a gothic tale. It took me a bit to get into it because we're thrown right into the story and we're never really told what or who the Folk are (I imagined them to be like Fey or Fairies). The Folk Keeper's job remains a bit of a mystery throughout the book as well, with only little details revealed here and there.

But once you get going, the story picks up-the author doesn't waste a lot of time setting up the story, and Corin is whisked off to Cliffsend very quickly. Once at Cliffsend I found myself engaged in this odd little tale. Corinna tries to come off as a strong and in charge girl (or boy at times, as she's hiding her identity) but deep down you see her fears and her struggles. She also has a sharp wit which I appreciated-it made her a more interesting character and I found I liked her a lot more.

There are a lot of fantasy elements to the book, but I don't think non-fantasy readers would be turned off by that because they are lighter fantasy. There's also a bit of a romance, but again, it's fairly light. Mostly, this is Corinna's story about discovering who she is and choosing her path.

It reminded me a bit a Neil Gaiman, so I would recommend to this Gaiman fans or readers who enjoy folk tales and gothic stories. It seems like it would be a tween novel, but I think it's a higher middle grade/young teen novel and would be great for advanced readers. After reading The Folk Keeper, I understand the excitement of a new book from this author and I'm looking forward to reading Chime.

Book Pairings: Pair with Neil Gaiman's Coraline (they just had a similar feel to me) and Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase for another middle grade gothic tale.

Full Disclosure: Reviewed from copy I borrowed from my local public library


  1. I love this retro review idea! And I also love your review on this book - I bet it's one that a lot of people have not hear of since it is a bit older. Great post!

    Both books sounds A-MA-ZING! Added them both to my TBR on GoodReads - I especially love the title of the second! thanks so much!

    -Linds, bibliophile brouhaha

  2. I love your blog. New follow. Great post!
    Check out my blog and follow if you want!

  3. I got the ARC of Chime at ALA. It is a strange little book, but I kind of fell in love with it. I don't know how to describe it or who to recommend it to, but I REALLY enjoyed it.


  4. I spent a long time trying to figure out which fantasy-based creatures or mythological entities the Folk might be based on, especially since Sealfolk had a clear correlation with selkies. Fairies were the closest I could get - I think they're largely an invention by Franny Billingsley!

    My sister and I are rereading our favorite YA fantasy books for our podcast and I just revisited The Folk Keeper for the first time in about 20 years. I think I actually liked it better as an adult! The sneaky coming of age story and family history mystery were so well done; nothing was ever too obvious. Franny Billingsley's prose is lyrical without ever being overbearing.

    Our podcast is Dragon Babies on iTunes if you'd like to check out our Folk Keeper episode. Thanks for creating this review, I want more people to read this incredible book!


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