Beth Kemp's Reviews > The Obsidian Mirror

The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher
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's review
May 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: review-books, ya-fantasy-sci-fi

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.
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