Book Review: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

To the 19th century mind, the camera captured truth. You placed an object in front of it, clicked the button, and it created an indelible record of reality…or so it seemed. Yet in 1917, two young girls produced photographs which claimed to document fairies. If you are curious, click here to see the photos and find out more about the Cottingley fairies.

The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure tells the well-known story from the girls’ point of view, first from the perspective of Frances on her arrival in England (Part I), then from the perspective of Elsie (Part II) and then the story intersects to weave the tale of both girls and how their own personal fairytales ended. Losure consults primary sources like previously undisclosed personal letters to build her narrative.

In an era where Photoshop makes edits invisible, the story of the Cottingley fairies holds great fascination. To our sophisticated 21stcentury eyes, the series of fairy photographs is obviously faked, yet the girls persuaded one of the great minds of the 19th century, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Conan Doyle, who wrote one of the most skeptical anti-heroes of all time, Sherlock Holmes, was infamous in his own lack of skepticism. He believed in mystics and communications with his dead son through séance. Conan Doyle published a public defense of the photographs in the noted The Strand magazine, much to embarrassment of the girls’ parents.
The Fairy Ring has all kinds of engaging little details, like the fact that Frances was originally from Cape Town, South Africa. Or the fact that 15 year old Elsie was rather older than Frances, at nine. The language is delightful and reminds me strongly of Frances Hodgson Burnett – my favorite author who writes children’s books that are more than children’s books. It would be the perfect book to read aloud, as the prose has a charming freshness that lends itself to speaking.
The book has excellent high-quality scans of the photographs, which in itself is a pleasure to those who love Edwardian photography. There is a lot of argument about the final photograph in the Cottingley series. Fairy enthusiasts point out how different it is from the others, which clearly contain paper cut-outs. Here is the photo. The flanking fairies look like paper, but the central creature has a magnificent translucence – what do you think?

You should read this book if you love fairies and wish there was a touch more magic in the world. 

Pre-order The Fairy Ring; also available as an audio book. 
Candlewick Press, 2012. Thanks to @quellelove for the fantastic recommendation and ARC .

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Matthias Malzieu


What if falling in love cost you your life? Would you be able to resist?

The story opens in Edinburgh, in the late 1800s, during the greatest freeze the city has known. In this introduction, the cold and snow almost become a character on their own. You meet the protagonist, Jack, as a frail infant abandoned by his mother to the idiosyncratic and brilliant Dr. Madeleine.
To save his life, Madeleine grafts a cuckoo clock to his heart, but this alteration requires rules that cannot be broken:
“FIRSTLY: DON’T TOUCH THE HANDS OF YOUR CUCKOO-CLOCK HEART. SECONDLY: MASTER YOUR ANGER. THIRDLY: NEVER EVER FALL IN LOVE. FOR IF YOU DO, THE HOUR HAND WILL POKE THROUGH YOUR SKIN, YOUR BONES WILL SHATTER, AND YOUR HEART WILL BREAK ONCE MORE.”

Jack is tortured by the continual presence of his clock heart, which ticks and whirrs and cuckoos at the least convenient moment. He is bullied and mocked at school and it embarrasses him in public. 
The cast of characters that surrounds Jack as he grows is colorful and eclectic, a peg-leg prostitute and a Scotsman with a musical spine, all overseen by the protective and loving Dr. Madeleine, who has adopted her boy with the cuckoo clock heart.
The heart of the story is Jack’s doomed love for the coquettish, mercurial and short-sighted Miss Acacia, a street singer turned cabaret performer. For Jack, the perils of love are very real and shape all of his choices throughout the book. It’s not only love he has to control, but jealousy and anger ground through the gears of love, as his rival Big Joe vies for the hand of Miss Acacia. 
Jack later teams up with the famous film pioneer and illusionist Géorges Melies, who becomes enamored of his condition and its ramifications. The theme of illusions figures strongly, for nothing is quite as it seems in this little fable.
Malzieu seamlessly integrates the elements of steampunk with literary fiction, allowing this novella to transcend the usually cursed designation of “genre fiction”. It should, for this is really literary steampunk and you need neither to be really very literary or steampunk to enjoy it.
Melzieu’s prose has a dreamy, cinematic elegance, distinctly European. The pacing ticks along steadily – it is a quick read at 172 pages – and the action winds tighter and tighter until you cannot wait any longer for the denouement. The vivid characters stay with you long after you close this slim volume. There is a twist at the end, which cuts sharp as the second hand of a clock.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart has already been lauded as an adult fairytale, but it seems even more than that. The story concerns the lies we tell ourselves and others in our pursuit of love and our fear of love’s loss. It’s a magical journey that ends too soon, but makes the re-reading all too pleasurable.
Mathias Melzieu is also known as the lead singer of the French band, Dionysos. I have included the peculiarly wonderful book trailer, set to the music of Dionysos. The book is currently in production to become a full-length animated film, La Mécanique du Coeur, directed by the author and Stéphane Berla. In short, Malzieu proves steampunk offers stories with a beating heart.
Article first published as Book Review:The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu on Blogcritics.

Singing the Dragons to Sleep: Farewell to Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Today marks the end of an era: author Anne McCaffrey passed away at the age of 85, from a stroke at her home in Ireland.

I remember the first time I saw an Anne McCaffrey book: I was in a used bookstore, one that I frequently haunted in hopes of discovering some dusty paperback treasure. The books were always shelved stacked, spine-out, so you could scan whole stacks in a hurry. I was about 11 years old.

I was getting bored, as I already had a small book pile tucked under my arm, so I ran my finger down the shelf for “M-Mc.” The word “Dragon” caught my eye. I pulled it out; it was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I had never heard of her, but I definitely liked dragons and I liked that there was a girl riding on the back of the dragon and that she seemed to have most of her clothes on. Even at the age of 11, I was skeptical about the fantasy novels that featured scantily-clad barbarian ladies on the cover.


I had read The Hobbit a few years before and had shuddered at visions of Smaug curled up, one eye half-open, gleaming with his gold. Who wasn’t fascinated with dragons? Who didn’t want to fly?

When I was older, I learned to appreciate her accomplishments. The White Dragon was the first science fiction novel written by a woman to make the New York Times Bestseller List. Her work often had strong female protagonists, not to mention queen dragons. She was the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. She paved the way for countless female genre writers thereafter.

Anne brought us a whole world, blended science fiction and fantasy with carefree elan. Pern takes its place alongside hallowed fantasy lands: Middle Earth, Narnia, Oz, Earthsea, Discworld. Her writing allowed us to feel the wind blasting our hair back as the dragon launched into the air, to hear the flap of mighty wings.

She allowed us to fly. So ride the dragon’s wings to your well-deserved rest, Anne. Pern awaits.

Article first published as Singing the Dragons to Sleep: Farewell to Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011) on Blogcritics.