The Thief On The Winged Horse by Kate Mascarenhas (book review).

‘The Thief On The Winged Horse’ is the second published novel by Kate Mascarenhas. This takes a different turn from ‘The Psychology Of Time Travel’ and lands in fantasy.

One day, a stranger turns up at the Kendrick doll factory. He says his name is Larkin and that he’s family, misplaced by his ancestor running away and producing a child in France. He wants in to the family business, more specifically he wants to learn how to place enchantments on dolls to become a sorcerer.

Hedwig Mayhew, who works for the current boss Conrad Kendrick, remains unconvinced as previous applicants to become apprentices have been exposed as corporate spies. Larkin is keen but Conrad is suspicious, although he eventually decides it would be useful to hire him at a low level.

Persephone works in the shop. She has not allowed to become an apprentice. Women don’t appear to make the grade and are confined to making the miniature furniture for dollhouses as this apparently suits their nature. Her father, Brair, who used to work at the factory, is an unstable drunk who continues to disappoint her and he’s also Conrad’s twin. He thinks he should have inherited control as the older twin and is drinking to remember and forget. When Larkin is taken on, Persephone is even more determined to smash the glass ceiling.

The dolls are very special because the enchantment imbues them with a specific emotion. The owner of the doll or anyone who picks them up will experience this emotion at a heightened level be it love or jealousy or even fear. In this world, similar but not the same as our own, the dolls change hands for soaring prices and emotions do indeed run high. The thief on the winged horse of the title is a mythical character that seems to take the blame for things going wrong. He is said to be a part of the fae and will return what is lost if a sacrifice is made. This mythology is a central part of the heady combination of deception, magic and romance that makes this book so intriguing.

The writing is highly visual from the descriptions of the characters to the incisive dialogue. The loaded interaction between Persephone and her father is dynamic and at times painfully emotional. There is a lot unsaid between them and a lifetime of resentment boiling up inside her. She’s well aware of what is being denied and her persistence is every woman who went up against a man for a job. Yes, I’m aware this book is set in an Oxford where the equality laws don’t apply but if you want a recent example try a supermarket where women were on the till and the men in the warehouse get paid more or where the dinner-ladies lost out to the binmen for thirty years. The pain is real.

This is a tale well told and the central mystery around a missing doll pulls the focus in on these characters which causes them to address long held beliefs. The dolls and the sorcery are woven beautifully with the refreshingly unusual story. Kate Mascarenhas’ striking visual images and characters will have you casting the movie whilst reading. The magic is important but the emotions and manipulative behaviour is a much bigger part of the novel.

This is simply a great and original tale that put me in mind of such as ‘Stardust’ by Neil Gaiman. The magic lingers along with the family issues. The ending is surprising and clever and I look forward to more by Kate Mascarenhas. Can I have a doll please?

Sue Davies

January 2021

(pub: Head Of Zeus, 2020. 400 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78954-383-4)

check out website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.