Book Review: Fablehouse by E. L. Norry

Fablehouse cover by Thy Bui

Historical record rarely lets us hear how children experienced the world around them. Their voices often become lost or forgotten and their absence from textbooks means that today’s schoolchildren usually miss out on hearing about the lives that are easiest to compare with their own. However, one of the great joys of historical fiction is how the imagination and skilled research of brilliant authors does put children back into the narrative and opens a whole new window into the past. 

E. L. Norry’s Fablehouse is a book that does exactly that and she invites us to meet a fictional group of children whose story has been inspired by one that is rarely heard in the popular accounts of post-war Britain.

Fablehouse is the name of a magical mansion in the British countryside. It is based on Hornicote House in Somerset which was used after the Second World War as an orphanage for the mixed-race children of Black American GIs and white women. These children grew up away from their mothers because of the colour of their skin and Norry, who herself was raised in the care system, has created a magical adventure inspired by their story and her own personal childhood experiences. 

Our narrator, Heather, arrived at Fablehouse only a week before the story begins and she slowly finds a shared love for exploring the local landscape with some of the other children who live there. As their friendship and shared love for the land around their home grows, the group name themselves The Roamers. 

The adventurous group of explorers are drawn towards a mysterious cairn where, one day, they encounter a stranger who eventually identifies himself as Palamedes, a knight from the stories of Arthurian legend. His arrival has unlocked a door to a magical world that puts them all in danger. The Roamers must set out on a quest and work together to overcome the dangers that threaten their world. 

Norry brilliantly weaves history with fantasy and creates a legendary adventure that is full of magic and mystery. But she has also created a beautifully empathetic story at the heart of which are characters who discover so much about themselves as their enemies prey on their deepest fears and worries. The Roamers’ anxieties about their future and the things they have lost are heart breaking and entirely relatable. 

Fablehouse is a story about belonging and finding the magic in yourself and those around you. It is so important to hear children’s voices and to understand their lived experiences. These characters invite us to learn about the history of the children who grew up in the post-war care system and to see them as more than forgotten statistics. By creating a fantasy adventure that grows from a lost part of history, Norry has created a multi-layered gift of a tale that rewards readers by encouraging them to look with compassion at the past and understand those who lived there.

You can find out more about E. L. Norry by visiting her website.

Fablehouse is published by Bloomsbury who kindly sent me a review copy. The cover illustration is by Thy Bui.

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