Claire Fayers may be known for her Accidental Pirates series, which was named a Beano.com best book of the year, but she has excelled with her latest book, Mirror Magic; a move from pirates into the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution.
Twelve-year-old Ava returns with her brother to the town of Wyse, on the border between England and Wales, after the death of her parents. But the town is famous for being the only place left in England in which magic happens. Mirrors are portals to UnWyse, where the Fair Folk live, and enchantments are commanded from them and sold in tourist shops. Ava’s arrival provokes stares and suspicions – and it’s not long before she works out why. When she travels through a mirror into UnWyse and meets Howell of the Fair Folk, the pair are quickly drawn into solving the mystery of why the magic is ending, and why Ava’s presence is stirring up suspicion.
Refreshingly, as a break from so much angst in contemporary children’s fiction, this stands out as a fantastic old-fashioned adventure story with wit, ingenuity and charm. Any modern children’s book about magic will inevitably draw allusions to Harry Potter: here there are villains who aren’t completely whole human beings; the use of mirrors as magic entities; spells and transfigurations, but then Harry Potter wasn’t original in many of these ideas either. The wonder of magic, of course, is that you can make anything happen anywhere. What makes it work within a novel is a basis in reality and familiarity, and the ability to exploit its comic as well as dark potential. Fayers successfully does all this.
By chronicling the gradual demise and failure of the magic mirrors, and the rise of invention through the Industrial Revolution, Fayers establishes a firm link between fantasy and reality, cleverly suggesting that magic is no longer needed if science takes over. At the start of each chapter, there are excerpts from ‘the book’; a fairly unknown entity until about halfway through the novel, when it becomes apparent that the book can tell the future. Through its writing, the reader learns dates of important inventions of the Victorian era, such as the telephone and the electric oven, which lends some informative fun to the novel, and helps the narrative prose settle firmly in a rich Victorian era. As well as establishing her timeframe and setting, Fayers has a knack at moving her characters through the story with urgency, and the book becomes ever more compulsive and enjoyable. It’s a wonderful fantasy romp.
Here, Fayers imagines some historical newspaper articles that may have chronicled the end of the era of magic:
Mirror Magic imagines a world exactly like our own but with one big difference – magic exists. Fairy mirrors connect us to the Unworld where the Fair Folk have promised to provide magical goods and services to anyone who asks.
The story starts in 1842, when most mirrors have stopped working and only one small town on the border of Wales and England still has access to the Unworld. The Wyse Weekly Mirror (expertly designed by Jess at Macmillan Children’s Books) gives an insight into daily happenings in the last town of magic.
But what of other time periods?
The first newspaper, the Oxford Gazette appeared in 1665 and newspapers were well-established by the Industrial Revolution, but what would those times have looked like with a bit of magic?
Real Garments Don’t Fade
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Unworld Allergy to Iron ‘a Myth’
Sir Clement Clark, formerly of the Council of Conjurors, has proved that the fairy allergy to iron does not exist.
It was long thought that the rise of the iron industry may be responsible for the failure of certain magic mirrors, but Sir Clement, whose own magic mirror stopped working two years ago, has made a thorough study, including locking fairies into iron boxes to see if they suffered any ill effects from the metal. He reports that they do not, although some have emerged from the boxes looking faint from hunger.
Steam-Powered Mirrors? Fantasy or Reality?
With the failure of magic mirrors, efforts, some conjurors are spending vast fortunes on finding new ways to power their access to the Unworld. Now, steam power is seen as the new saviour of magic.
Experiments are underway, connecting steam engines to magic mirrors. These steam engines are currently coal-fuelled, but if this method proves successful, the engines could be powered with fuel brought through the mirrors from the Unworld. Thus, in effect, the engines would be self-powering.
Magic Not Needed Says Isambard Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel has caused further controversy by saying the rise of engineering proves once and for all that magic is no longer relevant to modern life.
Brunel, himself the great-nephew of a conjuror, has released designs for a suspension bridge to be constructed in Bristol. This bridge will be constructed entirely without the assistance of Unworld workers and enchantments.
Magic has been in decline for decades with mirrors ceasing to work across the country. Early research into steam-powered mirrors was abandoned after it proved ineffective. Wales and the west of England now has the highest concentration of conjurors.
With thanks to Claire for her blogpost. You can buy a copy of Mirror Magic here. For age 8+ years.
Claire Fayers was born and brought up in South Wales, an area of the country sadly deficient in dragons. Having studied English at University of Kent, Canterbury, she built a successful career writing short stories for women’s magazines until the lure of magic became too much and she wrote The Accidental Pirates: Voyage to Magical North. It was selected for Waterstones Book of the Month and shortlisted for the FCBG Children’s Book Award 2016, and its sequel, The Accidental Pirates: Journey to Dragon Island, was published in 2017. When she’s not writing, you’ll find Claire at her allotment. Mirror Magic is her third book with Macmillan Children’s Books.