Catherine Fisher writes with a poet’s love and respect for language. This story, the last in her Clockwork Crow trilogy, is slight in plot but rich in atmosphere. Set in a version of Wales in some indeterminate time in the past where magic still runs deep, Seren, a young but resourceful girl orphan, has been taken into the local big house run by amiable Lady Mair and her equally easy-going ex-army husband. Servants abound, with tenants warmly invited each year to a Midsummer Ball.
So much so traditional. But throw in a grumpy, desiccated schoolteacher now transformed into a mechanical crow and add the constant threat posed by Them, the malevolent Fair Family fairy force insisting on its getting its own way, and things soon start to look very different. Seren has vowed to turn the vain and somewhat ungrateful crow back into who he once was. But this necessitates a perilous journey set off by a pen that writes itself, taking in a parliament of fowls en route and ending at the Garden of the Midnight Swan. She is loyally supported by Tomos, son of the house, plus a few talking animals, always so helpful when human characters need advice. Taking all this on board is made not just easy but also a real pleasure due to Fisher’s mastery of simple but memorable prose. Comparatively short, this story feels much longer because no reader would ever wish to hurry through this cornucopia of images magically coming to life in such an economy of words. And when something earthier is required, there is always the Crow with his boasting, self-deception and general tetchiness. Previous installments in this trilogy have already won prizes; this title deserves one too.nic