The Thief on the Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas – review

Published by Head of Zeus

Publication date – 12 November 2020

Source – review copy

The Kendrick family have been making world-famous dolls for over 200 years. But their dolls aren’t coveted for the craftsmanship alone. Each one has a specific emotion laid on it by its creator. A magic that can make you feel bucolic bliss or consuming paranoia at a single touch. Though founded by sisters, now only men may know the secrets of the workshop.

Persephone Kendrick longs to break tradition and learn her ancestors’ craft, and when a handsome stranger arrives claiming doll-making talent and blood ties to the family, she sees a chance to grasp all she desires.

But then, one night, the firm’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone with knowledge of magic could have taken her. Only a Kendrick could have committed this crime…

On a small river island called Paxton’s Eyot, live the descendants of sisters, founders of Kendrick’s doll factory. The residents still work at Kendrick’s producing dolls. Though these are no ordinary dolls, for they are enchanted. One day a stranger arrives, claiming to be a descendant of a sister thought to have died in childbirth. And then the company’s most valuable doll is stolen. Only someone able to withstand the magic that surrounded her could have taken the doll. And that someone had to be part of the family.

This book, much like the dolls depicted in it, is enchanted. It works its magic over the reader, drawing them into a world that is both recognisable but slightly surreal, with sorcery bubbling under the surface. The magic is accepted by everyone, eyot residents and otherwise. The dolls are sought out because of them and collectors evenings are held where dolls are displayed so that collectors can feel the various enchantments.

Part of the magic is the setting, a small island in Oxford, a microcosm of magic, where the descendants of founding sisters all work and live together. There are family rivalries, jealousy, secrets and romance. There is conniving, mis-trust and greed. All of these could be enchantments but are out there, being felt and shown by the residents.

Much like the dolls, the story evokes many emotions in the reader. There is pity for Briar, the shunned elder twin of Conrad, the head of the family. Left out of his father’s will, Briar turned to drink, to the detriment of his family. There is contempt for Conrad, a spoiled man who has to have his whim taken as first consideration. There is disdain for Hedwig, who herself is driven by selfishness. Then there is Persephone, who the reader is willing on to triumph despite her own issues.

The real world and the fae world co-exist in this story. There’s no suggestion of another, alternate Oxford. The story takes place in the here and now and the magic is accepted as a way of life.

There is much in this book that is a commentary on how women are perceived in society. At the first chance, men had taken over Kendricks, originally founded by four women who could read hexes and enchant items. Now women are given one hex, chosen for them by their father on their 13th birthday, and it is for the father to decide if the girl receives her chosen hex. From having knowledge of all enchantments to being resigned to doll house design or the shop floor, slowly over the years, the power that began with women has been subverted by the male line. As much as it is that, it is also a commentary on how hard women have to fight for what is rightfully theirs, have to show, time and again, that they are as worthy of respect and equality.

The enchantments are referred to as hexes, and this can’t be by chance. Emotions hold humans enthralled, they can captivate, inspire or drive a person to distraction. Love can be a blessing and a curse, just as much as any other emotion. They can be pitted against others, much like between the brothers Briar and Conrad, leaving behind a lifetime of misery that could have been avoided if they hadn’t be slave to their hex.

A rather lovely read, that pulls the reader in, absorbs their interest and leaves them wanting a return visit to Kendricks.

About the Author

Kate Mascarenhas is a part-Irish, part-Seychellois midlander. Since 2017, Kate has been a chartered psychologist. Before that she worked as a copywriter, a dolls’ house maker, and a bookbinder. She lives with her husband in a small terraced house which she is slowly filling with Sindy dolls. Her first novel, The Psychology of Time Travel was published in 2018 to wide acclaim.



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