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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Review: The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher

Complex and satisfying blend of fantastic elements and genres - fab speculative read for teens plus

This novel, the first in a series focused on the Chronoptika device built around a magical obsidian mirror, features an amazing array of elements. There is magic: in the mirror, in the glamorous and dangerous Shee who live in the grounds of the Abbey; there are also sci-fi elements in the time travel and the hints of a disaster-stricken future. Finally, there is mystery and adventure in spades. As a fan of folklore, speculative fiction and magic realism, I was sure this was a book I'd enjoy and I was delighted to be proven right.

Reading this book is like working through an intricate puzzle, trying out all the pieces to see where they fit. The narrative with its cinematic feel is a key component in this, as the novel is very carefully constructed through relatively short scenes or sequences which focus on the different characters in turn. This choppy narration is skilfully done and has several effects. It makes the reading experience feel like a film experience, as though the camera shifts to follow different characters, cutting from scene to scene. It controls the tension levels perfectly, leading you to a peak before cutting to something of a much lower intensity, then building up again. And perhaps most importantly, it enables Catherine Fisher to people her novel with relatively unsympathetic characters without losing our interest. Oddly, although it's not easy (at least at first) to claim any great love for any of the main characters, it's very easy to care what happens to them.

As well as playing with generic elements and conventions, this book is quirky in terms of age range conventions. Undoubtedly too complex for younger readers, it still has something of the tone of a classic 9-12 fantasy together with more adult involvement than is typical of a teen adventure. These aspects, for me, give the novel overall a nostalgic quality, as though Catherine Fisher had combined the 'comfy blanket' elements of a much-loved children's tale with enough intrigue and mystery to satisfy an older reader. Interestingly, I wasn't aware of this explicitly when reading; it's something I only realised when planning this review.

This is the first in a series and there are still plenty of loose ends to tie up (and probably get more tangled first). I will definitely be looking out for the next instalment(s) in the adventure, and would absolutely recommend The Obsidian Mirror.

From the author's website:

When Jake Wilde comes to Wintercombe Abbey seeking revenge he finds a snow-bound house of secrets. His godfather, the obsessive, haunted Oberon Venn, is convinced that the Obsidian Mirror can change time and that with it he can reverse the great tragedy of his wife's death.

But all around the Abbey live the Shee and their beautiful, deadly queen, Summer. And she has other plans for Venn....

A girl who can become invisible,a wolf of ice, a future where the world is ending, a past of Victorian slums and secrets, all exist in the reflections of the mirror. But who can control it? Who can enter it?

And can it be destroyed before it destroys the world?


Publishing 4 Oct by Hodder Children's
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy
Check it out at Amazon UK

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