An engaging and cultured story for young teens that actually makes them think.
Fisher writes stories you can sink your teeth into. On the one hand they offer well-paced, surprisingly original entertainment, and on the other they raise profound questions for individuals and societies. Unlike any other author I know, Fisher successfully combines time travel, historical fiction and fairy lore, and from this cultured mix draws philosophical reflections on life and happiness. That’s my ideal for a storyteller.
All of the characters are interesting but we identify most with Jake, the teenage protagonist, whose father has been missing for two years. Like us, Jake doesn’t know why his father has disappeared, and we must both wait patiently as the clues are slowly pieced together.
As a developing mystery the story is suspenseful and intriguing, beginning in a contemporary American high school but soon relocating to British woodlands where a secretive house accommodates clues to the past and future.
Then, when Jake is sent back in time, we are confronted with the brutality of Dickensian London: the opulence of a rich and well-kept neighbourhood juxtaposed with a tangle of slums filled with the stench of suffering and disease. There’s the mystery surrounding the mirror’s hiding place, with the pentangle in the opium den a fitting symbol for the self-serving corruption of the one who hides it.
The fairies appear in the form of the Shee: mysterious, immortal and magical beings who inhabit the enchanted grounds of the forest and who disdain mortal humanity, acting only in their own interest.
There is much philosophising about time and mortality, power and love. A human boy, coaxed away from his family by the Shee with promises of immortality and magic, finds himself still trapped in their world two centuries later. He realises that though he has eternity and everything humans dream of, he does not have love or the joys and sorrows of a real family. His world is a place where fear has no boundaries, an ageless land of summer but in the company of beautiful people who think only of themselves, their music, their cold laughter, and who have no ambition, no future and no past.
This is the first in a series and it’s not always easy to determine the good and the bad; we don’t yet know all the characters’ histories. We do see the good or bad that motivates particular actions, however, which makes us reconsider certain characters we had thought sinister, and doubt those we presumed were on our side.
For a young teen readership Fisher’s novels are neither too long nor too short; they are an intriguing, thought-provoking stroll down a very interesting and entirely unknown path.