N. J. Simmonds’s first novel The Path Keeper is due for release in February as young adult fiction, but it’s so very much more than that! Poor Little Rich Girl Ella – Arabella Imaculada Santiago De Los Rios to give her her full name – is torn between two lovers, mysterious poor boy Zac and decorative rich boy Josh. She’s full of angst, having been dragged from her childhood and spiritual home in southern Spain to London to play happy families with her mother Felicity and her stepfather Richard in London. To Ella, London is a ‘Shitty city,’ and she doesn’t care if she loses friends with her attitude. As she wryly observes:
‘The fewer people there are in her life, the less chance there is of it being fucked up further.’
Her mood isn’t helped when Richard – who she loves as much as she loves her Mum and respects a lot more – insists on adopting her, so that she can take his surname. The combination of Ella with Richard’s surname Fantz results in her being ridiculed and called Dumbo (Ella Fantz, geddit?). The name-calling follows her from Spain to London, and she’s like a fish out of water until she meets Zac.
Ella is foul mouthed and feisty – Zac describes her as having ‘The face of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.’ She’s also vulnerable and troubled, and it would be so easy for her to become a caricature of a stroppy teenager, but Simmonds’s characterisation is far too subtle and clever to allow that to happen.
This isn’t just a simple love story either – although it is powerful, poignant and very different to the usual ‘boy meets girl’ stuff. Zac and Ella indulge in some deep and meaningful discussions on life and religion, as Ella learns more about her mysterious lover, who seems to appear out of nowhere every time she thinks of him. The discussions never get too serious though, because Simmonds’s wicked sense of humour shines through when you least expect it. When Zac tells Convent-educated Ella that God doesn’t exist, she replies:
How come some guys wrote about God and Jesus and millions have worshipped it for 2,000 years if it’s all a load of bollocks?
Under her cynical carapace though, Ella is a lost, lonely, frightened girl, and Zac realises this only too well. In fact, he knows everything about her, because he is special as well as mysterious. When they flee to Spain to try to resolve their situation, he sums up the swearing and shouting by telling her ‘I realise your words are a carriage for your fear.’
Zac and Ella discuss life, religion and love, and Simmonds uses these discussions as a vehicle for her sharp wit, as this conversation shows:
Ella: We’ve done nothing wrong. We love each other, and doesn’t that mean anything?
Zac: Apparently not.
Ella: But you said all you need is love.
Zac: No, you’re mistaking me for the Beatles. I said all there is is love, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.
So there is laughter, love, happiness and profanity in The Path Keeper. There is also loss, tragedy, mistakes and mayhem. There is no happy ending – once we know Zac’s secret, that’s not an option, even in a fantasy novel such as this. However, there is hope – hope for a future where love is enough, and where families can be happy, once the secrets are known.
N. J. Simmonds’s first novel is a gripping read which will make you laugh and make you sad. It will also make you question what you have always believed about life, love and faith. I couldn’t put it down – and I doubt if you will be able to either. You can read a sample chapter here, ahead of the launch.
The Path Keeper launches 23 February 2017, but you can pre-order your copy here or ask for it at all good bookshops. N J Simmonds will be touring London with her debut novel next month and will be in Spain in April. To see where she will be next, and receive the latest news on this title and the sequel ‘Son of Secrets’, visit njsimmonds.com.
UPDATE 23 February marks the anniversary of the publication of The Path Keeper. Natali is moving to a new publisher, who will re-issue the book and publish the sequel, Son of Secrets. For this reason, you may have difficulty purchasing the book in stores or from online outlets. However, you can buy a limited edition, signed copy of The Path Keeper from the website. Be quick though – they’re selling out fast!
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