VINE VOICEon 27 October 2012
Catherine Fisher's many fans will be delighted to hear that her latest, "The Obsidian Mirror", is the start of a sequence. Fisher works differently, I think, in standalone books and sequences. The standalones, like "Crown of Acorns", "Darkhenge" and "Corbenic", tend to focus on some deep-seated trauma in the young protagonist's mind; he or she will, via the medium of fantasy, find some way of living with reality. The journey is essentially a foray through an individual mind. In the sequences, Fisher can show her immense craft at world-building (as in the two Incarceron novels, where a misguided attempt to halt change and development has resulted in a world of fake surfaces and hidden realities rather like a film set). In these sequences, though the protagonist will still have his/her own issues to work out, there is also a whole universe of equally fascinating minor characters with their own journeys, sometimes parallel, sometimes interlocking. They are already emerging here as they did in "The Book of the Crow", her last work on this scale, and I'm already particularly invested in Molly, a Victorian street urchin of immense character and resourcefulness of whom we shall surely see more in the next volume.
The workings of time have always been a fascination of Fisher's; in "Corbenic", Cal gets off at the wrong station and finds himself in Arthurian times, while in "Crown of Acorns" three stories, from different times in history, run parallel. But this is the first book of hers I recall in which the possible mechanics of time travel have played any part. The mirror of the title is a way of travelling in time, and both a man, Venn, and a boy, Jake, are trying to use it for personal ends, while another character, from a different time, is trying to destroy it for altruistic reasons. At least, that's how things seem now; anyone acquainted with Fisher's ability to produce plot twists that are both credible and surprising will be wary of coming to any definite conclusion on motives for some time yet.
Another Fisher signature which I am personally delighted to see reappearing is her fascination with cold. Anyone who recalls the gripping imaginative prose of the Snow-Walker trilogy will be happy to find themselves back in the depths of winter, and these descriptions are among the most memorable passages in the book: the moon "a silver fingernail through the branches", the snow that "fell in slow diagonals, twirling out of the dark". One of the most striking moments is when the wood-dwellers emerge:
The Shee were flocking from the wood. They carried bells and chimes, many beat drums and the deep throbbing rhythm made starlings rise from the trees and call to each other across the sky. The snow had stopped falling; now it lay deep and still and the clouds were clearing. High above, like a dust of diamonds on black velvet, the stars were coming out, sherds and slivers of brilliance, eerie over the frozen Wood and the blue-white hummocks of the lawns.
As usual, the narrative impulse was so strong that I devoured the thing in a ridiculous hurry and will need to re-read. But I'm already completely hooked. The sequence is currently set to comprise hopefully four books, possibly three. The more the better, I say.