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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Time Travelling Meets The World Of Fairy

The Obsidian Mirror - Catherine Fisher

A Young Adult fantasy that combines time-travel with the world of fairy, The Obsidian Mirror is the story of teenage Jake's attempts to find out what has happened to his father who disappeared when working with his friend, the noted adventurer, mountain climber and recluse Oberon Venn.

Convinced that Venn has murdered his father, Jake gets himself expelled from his exclusive boarding school and makes his way to the isolated abbey that Venn inhabits. Here he discovers that Venn is in possession of an obsidian mirror which acts as an unreliable time-portal. Through this portal Jake's father apparently vanished; now he is lost somewhere in the past.

Although Jake is obliged to accept that his father was not murdered, he still blames Venn for what happened. At loggerheads, the two are nevertheless possessed by similar obsessions: Jake wants to find his father; Venn wants to go back into the past to prevent the accident that killed his wife. So it's not surprising that they eventually establish a working truce in an attempt to make the mirror function reliably.

Their ambition is complicated, however, by a series of factors. The first is the presence of one of Jake's teachers who is determined to see that his former charge is not in any danger. The second is the arrival of a girl from the future who insists that the mirror threatens all life on the planet and must be destroyed but who is herself pursued by an apparently indestructible hunter determined to ensure it survives. The third is the appearance of the rightful owner of the mirror from whom it was stolen long ago and who now wishes to reclaim it.

Add two more ingredients to this tangle of conflicting desires: the jealousy of the queen of the fairy host who resides, along with her fellow creatures, in the grounds of the abbey and who is in love with Venn; and the loneliness of a changeling boy whom the fairies adopted long ago and who haunts the woods that surround the abbey, longing to regain his humanity.

The result is a very complicated plot in which I was not entirely convinced that all the elements had been blended effectively. Fisher's answer to the demands of this multi-stranded narrative is to leave an enormous amount unexplained. While I found this initially compelling it was ultimately frustrating. I sometimes felt as though I was reading the second or third book in a series; so much seemed to exist in the author's head but not on the page.

Nevertheless, it's a novel that offers a great many pleasures. The prose is often delightful, the breadth of the author's imagination is impressive and the audacity of the story’s conception is at times quite thrilling.