Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher


Chronoptika Series Book #1, Firebird, 2014, 378 pgs.

An angry schoolboy searches for his father’s murderer. A desperate girl jumps back in time to attempt to stop the man who will one day rule the world with uncanny magic. One scientist from the 1800’s studies a strange artifact for power, while another from the modern day looks to it to save his lost wife. A boy captured by the fair folk plots to make his escape, a girl tries to protect the stranger she fell in love with, and a teacher follows his student into danger. And through it all runs the oppressive presence of the Obsidian Mirror. The Mirror can drag you back through time, open to you worlds that you’ve never seen. It can give you a second chance to put things right, find what you’re searching for, but it only works one way. If you make the choice to use it you may never get home again.

This is, to put it bluntly, a very strange book for me.

Given, this may be because, in general, Obsidian Mirror is actually sort of a strange book for Catherine Fisher. It’s not quite off to the extent that it feels like a novel written by someone else; there are plenty of her hallmarks here, written with her typical grace. There are also plenty of things that always made her writing pop for me that are just missing from this novel, though.

I mean, overall I think I liked it. I’m interested in the rest of the series, at least, if I can ever track them down out of what seems to be half in-print obscurity.

(As an aside, how? The final book only came out last year, and Fisher’s a decently known author.)

Like I said, though, this is a very strange novel for her. I’m not sure if it’s her as a writer trying out something different or if the mostly modern-day setting necessitates something other from her previous pieces, which were typically set in completely alternate worlds. We’re retreading a little too much for it to be the former, though, I think.

That sounds like a criticism, but isn’t really. Most of the retread here consists of things that drew me to Fisher’s work in the first place. We have the typical cast of angry young people, hopeless dreamers, and gruff mentors that I always like so much more than the perfectly good, perfectly righteous protagonists of other YA series. We have a nice central mystery set up; as per usual there’s something dark at the heart of this story that the readers aren’t privy to yet. We even have the same sort of in media res that started the last two series I’ve read of hers. Again, this is a good thing. It gets the action going quickly and I’ve always liked having to figure out the rules of a world on my own.

And beyond the typical things that I appreciate about her work, there’s enough new that’s good that I can’t just write this book off.

Our usual cast is fleshed out with the constantly cheerful teenager, Rebecca and the stoic but caring teacher, Wharton, both of whom are blessedly normal people who get dragged into the fantastical crazy. They’re character archetypes I’ve never even seen Fisher touch on, and they’re definitely products of the more modern setting.

And while I may miss the beautifully detailed, infinitely strange worlds of her previous pieces, Fisher doesn’t fare too badly writing what is essentially urban fantasy. Or, more specifically, writing any of the story types she’s pushed together here. The Victorian mad scientists feel convincingly penny dreadful-like, and the futuristic dystopia is suitably terrifying and horrific. Ditto the murder mystery, and the fairy story, and the tragic love angle. All of the genres she’s playing with here really do feel like their own individual entities with their own characteristics.

Which is, on some level, the main problem with the book. I like all the components here, but taken together as a whole this is far more disjointed than anything else I’ve seen from this author. As you can probably tell from that summary up there, I’m having a hard time even describing how they all connect. I’d normally say the choppiness is part and parcel of having so many different story types pushed into one place, but I’m not sure that’s actually the case here.

It’s not like Fisher’s never bashed competing ideas against each other to try to make them play nice before. Incarceron posited old-timey frippery and Mad Max anarchy as two sides of the same coin. Relic Master/Book of the Crow played what was, ultimately, straight science fiction as a fantastical quest to awaken lost gods and save the world. Her play with vastly different genres is a huge part of what makes her writing interesting.

But both of those series felt like fully-fleshed, cohesive worlds from their very openings. This is far more jumbled, and I’m not sure whether it’s because there are so many characters to juggle, or whether it’s because the lack of a new world for the author to flesh out means the lack of a single unifying conflict. Either way it’s honestly a little confusing; I feel like I only halfway understand how all the storylines and the characters in them fit together. There’s just so much going on here that it’s hard for everything to gel in the space of one book, even if, so far as I can tell, the ideas behind slamming it all together are sound.

Which, aside from Fisher’s consistently lovable characters, is probably the novel’s one saving grace. I get the themes she’s pulling on to bring all these disparate ideas together. What do fairy courts with human captives, Victorian mad scientists, and time travelers coming back to prevent future despots all have in common?

Well, on some level they all deal with time and our experience of it, with questions of what human morality means in the grand scheme of things, and with how those two problems work together in our experience of the world. They’re all genres that play around with the fabric of reality. Again, I think I see part of where she’s going with it. And these questions are the stuff of really unique, timeless works. If she can make all of the storylines function more as a single unit in the next couple of books, this series could turn out spectacularly.

For now, though, the lack of cohesion makes this first novel a little hard to read. The ideas are there, but the execution falls down at points.


2016 Year in Review

firework unsplash pexels.jpg

Well, this sure has been a year, hasn’t it? Some good, quite a lot of bad, more interesting than I know what to do with, and regardless of everything, I have to agree with the consensus of “thank god it’s over.” Blogging has certainly not been as eventful as everything else in my life, let alone the world, but the opening of a new year is a good time to look back and take stock for anything, really. Reinforcing that I have managed to accomplish at least something always helps me to be able to pick at what needs work. And picking at what needs work always helps me to figure out how to plan for the future.

So without much more in the way of ado, here’s a look at the first year of this blog: what I did, what I need to do better, and where I want to go.

Books Read

I managed to read more this year than I did last year (progress!), and did well enough with my goal of less popcorn reading that I’m not disappointed. Because I actually have reviews for most of these, and am planning on writing them for most of the ones I don’t, this is going to be far more list-like than last year. The ones I don’t have reviews for yet will get a couple of sentences of overview, but again, expect forthcoming reviews on most of those.

1) Incarceron—Catherine Fisher

2) Saphique—Catherine Fisher

3) Geek Love—Katherine Dunn

4) Eating Mammals—John Barlow

5) Cruel Crown—Victoria Aveyard

I barely even mentioned these two novellas, I think, but I did like them. In spite of the major disappointment of the second novel, they flesh out the world well and provide voices to two characters we barely get to see in the main series.

6) The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice—Tom Holt

7) Glass Sword—Victoria Aveyard

8) Titus Groan—Mervyn Peake

I’ve mentioned this series several times as being one of the most difficult, unique things I’ve ever read, and that about sums it up. The second after this one, Gormenghast, is still in the process of being read; I wandered away from it and never quite made it back.

9) The Darkest Part of the Forest—Holly Black

10) Summer and Bird—Katherine Catmull

11) Lost Time—Susan Schmid

12) Born Wicked—Jessica Spotswood

13) Legacy of Tril: Soulbound—Heather Brewer

14) The Vorrh—Brian Catling

15) Forest of Memory—Mary Robinette Kowal

16) Ten Mile River—Paul Griffin

17) The Corgi Chronicles—Laura Madsen

18) Labyrinth—Kate Mosse

19) Obsidian Mirror—Catherine Fisher

This is one of Catherine Fisher’s more interesting books, with very good ideas and somewhat uneven execution. I’d love to read the sequels, if I can ever figure out how the British release translated over into the American.

20) Proxy—Alex London

21) Passenger—Alexandra Bracken

22-28) The seven main Harry Potter books—J. K. Rowling

I figure you know what they are, I don’t have to list them all. Much like the following several books, I am planning on finishing the discussions of these. Given, with the way I’m going, it may have to wait for next summer.

29) Libriomancer—Jim Hines

Possibly Hines’ most lyrical novel, but I’m not sure how well it fits on him. Given, my reaction may have been clouded by circumstance, there; more on that later.

30) Fangirl—Rainbow Rowell

Remember when I said this sounded like the song of my people? I may have completely underestimated how much it was exactly that.

31) The Duchess of Bloomsbury St.—Helene Hanff

I’ve never really read travelogues before, but this makes me want more. Witty, relatable, and surprisingly melancholy at times.

32) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

My inner fan is both jumping for joy and screaming in anger here, and I’m still unsure which one is going to win out. I have badly mixed feelings on this.

33) No Passengers Beyond This Point—Gennifer Choldenko

A little too kiddish and a little too stereotypical for me. Generally could have done without this one.

34) Indexing—Seanan McGuire

Fun, interesting, and clever as hell with its meta. I’ve been meaning to read Seanan McGuire’s work, and I’m glad this was my first.

35) Chum—Jeff Somers

Suffice to say, I really need to stop trying to be that person who likes literary fiction.

Lessons Learned and Goals for Next Year

First and foremost…three posts a week is way too much for me. The resulting burnout from attempting that may not have been the main reason for the gigantic, three month gap in posting, but it was a major part of my losing momentum in the first place. I can see myself working my way up to two posts a week if things do manage to stabilize, but for now I think getting back to weekly is a large enough endeavor.

And finding the time to write is going to have to be another work in progress for me; I can’t just set aside huge specific chunks of time like I did when my work schedule was more stable, so I think I’m going to have to learn how to work throughout the week in small bits and pieces. That’s never been something I’m good at, at least as far as writing goes, but if I want to update regularly twenty minutes of writing somewhere each day is going to have to happen. With the way my schedule is I can’t do the thing where I write Sunday/Monday, edit Tuesday, and do the final polish on Wednesday anymore.

I’m also learning that I need to do something more in the way of promoting if I want more of an audience. Whether that’s doing community events or memes more often, or just being more active in seeking out and responding to other people, it needs to be something. As far as readers go I’m fairly content to let things move slowly, but I started doing this partially because I miss talking about books with people. So far as I’m small enough that discussion isn’t happening, this is somewhat counter-productive.

In other blog goals, I definitely want to try to do more with the couple of post series I stared, especially Forgotten Fantasy. One post in the category isn’t much at all, and while they do take a lot of work I want to be better at actually getting those together.

As for bookish goals, I’d definitely like to continue to try to read more and read difficult. The entire point of blogging, and discussing, and list-keeping is, for me, to get back to something I’d loved and lost between college stress and work stress. I want to work my way back into feeling like I’m actually a reader, and continuing to push myself is possibly the only way that’s going to happen.

That said, I did come back to this after a large pause, which is also something I’ve always had a problem with. I think I’ve proven to myself that this is something I actually want to do, which is half the battle for me.

So on to next year! May things continue to move forward, and may any setbacks be far more minor than this years’.

Cover Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash: sourced from Pexels