Crossing over with my involvement in the Instagram 12 Days of Bookmas I chose to feature A Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher today, which although not ‘new’ this year, absolutely deserves to be in hands and hearts every Christmas.
I’ve not been shy about my love of folklore, mythology and especially stories of the Fae, Sidhe, Hidden Folk -insert the cultural name of your choice- on this blog especially those that explore or honour the complicated nature rather than twinkly wands and sparkly kindness.
So the fact that people who enjoy such tales as me can have a Christmassy story that’s not ‘Tinkerbell-y’ (although let’s be faer I love her too) is intensely wonderful.
With its blend of Victoriana and a dash of steam punkery The Clockwork Crow will appeal to the lovers of Vashti Hardy’s writing, and with its deep roots in folklore, magic and Fae realms fans of Sophie Anderson, Michelle Harrison and Amy Wilson will find an earthy depth to delight.
Orphaned as a baby Seren has wished for a new home and family again from her London orphanage, so when the news comes her godfather has been found and is willing to take her into their family, Seren thinks all her Christmases have come at once.
However, her arrival at Plas-y-Fran is not as wonderful, and far more curious than she could imagine.
Not only during her journey does she accidentally become the guardian of a strange talking clockwork bird but she discovers things are not quite right at Plas-y-Fran with a musty mostly abandoned mansion, strict rules and locked doors but no one will actually tell her what’s going on.
‘We shouldn’t talk about Them.’ He held up his fingers and they were crossed, ‘Don’t ask me any more. They might hear.’Gwyn to Seren
The Clockwork Crow is a celebration of Wales, folklore and mythology through Catherine Fisher who is not a stranger to writing about the more mystical side and Faery Realms. A long term fan of her middle grade, this summer I was swept away by her older writing, The Obsidian Mirror (first in her Chronoptika series) which is a deeper, more complex look at faery folklore mythology across these islands.
For me though, The Clockwork Crow, which itself is the first in a series, is still absolute perfection in its creepy otherworldlyness, atmospheric building of tension and claustrophobia as Seren becomes ever more frustrated with the secrets, choking rules and lies that Mrs Villiers insists upon that this story will grip even the seasoned folktale lover and yet is still accessible (both emotionally and in literacy terms) and ‘safe’ for the young reader.
Seren beautifully evokes a wide range of classical ‘orphan- girl’ references from the determined resilient nature of Annie (Grey’s comic strip or Broadway) or the curious heart of Sara from A Little Princess to the circumstances (but luckily not attitude!) of Mary in The Secret Garden.
But equally Fisher takes care that Seren reflects the qualities and understanding of children (whatever time they are written in) that has been explored and honoured in more current 21st century childrens literature. Seren is beautifully complicated, she hopes, dreams, is hungry for family and love AND she is also questioning, angry and lightly rebellious about her upturned fantasy such as refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, deliberately breaking rules and calling a snowstorm to prevent her forced departure.
Fisher shows that you aren’t a ‘bad girl’ as Mrs Villiers implies if you get angry and frustrated that your dreams have been dashed, but if you use that anger as fuel for passion and change, have good intentions and act with kindness at heart then you have done your best. Indeed, if you wished for AM Howell’s The Garden of Lost Secrets to have wandered into the supernatural then this is definitely for you!!
she heard the high sweet note of a bell, silvery and sharp
It is the way Fisher leans into the dark side of Fae in this series which really captures my imagination and spirit wrapped up in this heritage laden Christmas bundle it is incredibly potent and a perfect read under blankets by the twinkle of fairy (rather than faery!) lights.
A Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher is published by Firefly Press.
If you are a kindle user, it is currently on sale for 99p until Christmas!! (I have no affiliation with this deal I just wanted to spread the word.)