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Robin: This is the second book in the Clemency Pogue series; you may remember she was that tender-hearted fairy-killer who did her best to repair her mistake, with the help of the friendly hobgoblin Chaphesmeeso. Hobgoblins in this fairy-verse (called the Make-Believe) “maintain the order, the balance”, according to Chaphe. Goblins, on the other hand are “nothing but chaos and nastiness”. They are skinny and shrivelled, with cloven feet and ears like goat horns. You can see some goblins on the cover (not to be confused with the baby).

This time Clemency’s concern is for a poor little puppy-dog called Henry; hoping that magic might help the sick animal, she calls on the hobgoblin. Chaphe has troubles of his own, however. He has charge of a fledgling hobgoblin called Kennethurchin who cannot graduate into full hobgoblinhood because… well, that’s complicated.

As Clemency learns, hobgoblins were originally human babies rescued from the goblins who stole them out of their cradles, leaving animated clay babies behind. The proxy babies melt away in their first bath water; somehow, Kennethurchin’s proxy has escaped this fate and grown up into a peculiar little boy known as Inky Mess. His continued existence threatens the Make-Believe as well as holding Kennethurchin back. Chaphe says that no changeling has ever grown up before, and that the fairies, who know everything, say it will be cataclysmic. He expects Clemency to help with this little problem, but she has secret plans…

Meanwhile Inky, befoxed by his inability to read, is holding some fairies captive in the hope of using their magic, and they are hopping mad! Also hanging around is the sinister Fairy of Long Goodnights with her deadly wand. The fairies in this series do have some peculiar talents and interests: there are the Papercut Fairy, the Fairy of Impossible Itches and the Fairy of Awkward Silences, just for example. Although all-knowing, they are, according to Chaphe, as “dumb as putty”. A strange but appealing story. The sequel, in which Inky does his worst, is called The Scrivener Bees.

Robin: The Knights of Liöfwende is a trilogy: the individual books are Spiggot’s Quest, Mallmoc’s Castle and Boggart and Fen. It is a solid adventure story, with lots of travelling, questing and fighting, which is also quite comic, much of the humour coming from the differing expectations of the mortals and the faerie.

Liöfwende (part of the land of faerie) is in the same place as England (part of Mortaland). The covers of the books reflect this, showing maps overlain on each other. In the words of Spiggot: “They sort of live together, side by side.” They even have some of the same place names, though the weather is rather different. It is possible to slip from one to the other, deliberately or by accident. Some of the faerie spend quite a bit of time on the mortal side, others not.

In Liöfwende, little changes. It is “always mediaeval”. There is history – faerie wars of the past are mentioned, and there are newcomers from overseas, some harmless, like the forest-dwelling leshy, and some ferocious, like the trolls. Liöfwende, however, is quite disconnected from human history.

The fairies are the gentry, the aristocrats of Liöfwende, and they are not only more beautiful but more powerful than the elves or the pixies. The goblins are tradesmen, and only accept crooked sixpences in payment. There are many different clans, of all kinds of faerie. Almost everyone looks down on the boggarts, although – or perhaps because – they are skilled craftworkers. The variety of faerie, engagingly described whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, is a great strength of the trilogy.

The human Jack is always complaining that things don’t make sense, that there’s no logic to what happens; he finds it chaotic. The faerie find this baffling; for them it is magic which is natural. Spiggot claims that serendipity – fortunate chance – is the science of Liöfwende.

At the beginning of the trilogy there is unease in the land. It is under hidden attack, and faerie armies are assembling, though no one knows who to fight – yet.

The first book is Spiggot’s Quest.

The first part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: Spiggot is a young boggart, an apprentice smith, who lives in one of the boggart villages of Rutland. Typically squat and hairy, he nevertheless has a “soul as fine as muslin” and dreams of being a hero. His father sends him to deliver a golden suit of armour to the fairy king in Northumberland – a long trek, especially as they must avoid bridges because of trolls. He takes Kling, a talking – and very large – water rat to pull the cart. On the way they meet Jack, a lost mortal, who joins them in the hope of finding a way home.

Jack, being a twenty-first century teenager, is profoundly ignorant about faerie, but he gets a crash course, meeting all sorts, including bogles, goblins, elves, pixies, tylwyth teg and the starry drittles. He also unaccountably encourages the susceptible Spiggot to play fairy knight, and the brave boggart dons the precious armour for various clumsy, but successful, fights with monsters.

They encounter the enchantingly lovely but inwardly vile ulcugga fairies, allies of the wicked mortal sorcerer Mallmoc, and rescue the mediaeval mortal maid Rosamund from their clutches.

The next book is Mallmoc’s Castle.

The second part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: Thousands of thrum are eating the roots of the trees of Liöfwende. Spiggot, now indeed a “faerie knight”, has been given a quest by the king of the Northumbrian fairies – to find the missing keystone of a cairn which should have kept the dire thrum in check. It is no simple hunt, however, as Spiggot believes the sorcerer Mallmoc has it, and to get it back will entail a full scale war against the ulcugga fairies. The ulcugga have already defeated the armies of the pixies and the elves in open battle, and Spiggot must win the support of the more powerful fairies and persuade them to band together under his leadership. Needless to say, he’s thrilled at the prospect.

After running into many clans of English and Welsh faerie in Spiggot’s Quest, in this book the band of heroes range further afield. After doing a deal with Cornish piskies, they go to Eri-niss (Ireland) in a glass ship and are attacked by sea fairies. Spiggot is keen to enlist some leprechauns, whose tricksy minds make them excellent strategists, but they are predictably elusive. Jack, ever unwary, is fooled by a phooka, driven mad by a ghost and captured by a one-sided giant. He also makes a useful contact in the mortal leader of the faerie host, whose changeling he knew back in Mortaland (coincidence is always happening in the land of faerie).

They fly to Thristlac (Scotland) to talk to the fairies of the seelie court. The unseelie court fairies are known to be vicious and viperous; the seelie aren’t exactly full of sweetness and light either, although they do improve on acquaintance. The potential thrum threat to their beloved evergreen forests – and a display of fighting prowess from Spiggot – wins their promise to join the battle; they even undertake to bring the unseelie fairies.

The next book is Boggart and Fen.

Boggart and FenThe final part of the Knights of Liöfwende trilogy

Robin: After the events of Mallmoc’s Castle, you would think the final book of the trilogy would be one big battle. Things are never that simple though, and one unexpected event is the uprooting of Mallmoc’s iron fortress and its transformation into an unstoppable land-ship. Another is the revealing of the sorcerer’s ghastly scheme to plough through the Liöfwende/Mortaland portal at Sutton Hoo, forcing the two lands into one. Timing is crucial; if the ship cannot be delayed, the fairy armies will converge too late. Spiggot, Jack, Rosamund and Kling use their brains and wiles and arcane knowledge to devise a couple of brilliant schemes. The gnomes, who appeared briefly in the first book as an amiable group of faerie, play a big role here.

It is a thrilling moment when Spiggot, the boggart leader of the combined fairy armies, addresses the assembled fairies. A battle plan is worked out, combining the usual fairy modes of fighting with Jack’s culled-from-war-films ideas about good communications and command of the air and Rosamund’s recollection of the cunning devices of her warrior father. Finally they engage with the ulcugga. It is no pitched battle, of course, all the fairies preferring to fight in a tangle of thistles and gorse brakes, and it lasts several days – I expect you can guess the outcome? Though the exact nature of it comes as a surprise to Jack, who is still unversed in the ways of faerie.

There is a suitable amount of romance in the trilogy – mostly arguments and
misunderstandings. Jack and Spiggot make rather gawkish suitors while Rosamund and Fen are spirited characters always ready to speak their mind. In general, all the elements are very nicely balanced, humour, romance, dialogue, character descriptions, excitement, horror, changes of scene, unexpected developments – very satisfying. Only one niggle: like the monk Solomon, I think there’s a bit too much Jack. He even has most of the adventures. Really, you’d think he was the hero.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy FarmerRobin: This is a story set long ago, in Viking times. It begins on the Northumbria Coast where the Northmen are having a glorious time sailing up and down raiding villages. But the book takes the less exhilarating view of one of the villagers, Jack, an apprentice bard, who is seized along with his adorable little sister and taken aboard a longship. Jack has acquired some magical skill from his bard, who has also told him about the trolls, or Jotuns, who live in the far north: “Most are quite pleasant, although they take getting used to. The ones you have to watch out for are the half-trolls. There’s no describing how nasty they can be. Or deceitful. They’re shape-shifters, and when they appear human, they’re so beautiful that you can’t think of a single sensible thing around them.”

The Northmen have much the same opinion. Although the trolls once hunted humans who were regarded as “two-legged deer”, they are now more restrained and only eat humans after a fair(ish) fight. On the whole they are honest and decent, although stupid and very ugly. But half-trolls are a different story. Perhaps because of being shape-shifters, they have no hold on reality and hate everything. Fortunately they cannot read minds, unlike the full-blooded trolls.

The king of the particular Northmen who capture Jack and Lucy happens to be married to a half-troll, Queen Frith, who is indeed both beautiful and terrible. Regrettably, Jack accidentally works a spell which infuriates the queen and is sent on a quest to Mimir’s well, to gain the knowledge to reverse it. The well is in troll country, Jotunheim, where everything is bigger and nastier.

It is a fair way into the book (chapter 32 of 43) before Jack meets his first Jotun – and promptly faints at seeing “a creature from his deepest and worst nightmares.” However, even sensitive humans are resilient, and Jack soon gets used to the unnerving but surprisingly hospitable trolls. They really don’t seem so stupid, either. He hears something of their history, how they walked across the frozen sea when their island country Utgard was destroyed, eventually reaching Jotunheim on whale-back. Their queen, Glamdis, has a harem of sixteen louts (male trolls) but also sometimes takes a fancy to a human, like the human father of Frith. However, Jotuns also have a dislike of half-trolls; Frith’s half-sister says that the children of troll/human and elf/human unions belong nowhere, always torn between worlds.

Elves, by the way, are only mentioned a couple of times, but appear prominently in the sequel The Land of the Silver Apples.

Columbine: I especially enjoyed Jack’s use of magic. Taught by the Bard, he becomes aware of the “life-force” in all things and draws on it to perform deeds like raising fog and lighting fires. It is very respectful of nature.

An Older Kind of MagicColumbine: This is a children’s book by the author of the brilliant fantasy series The Song of Wirrun. While that series is concerned with the vastnesses of the land and the traditions of its aboriginal people, this book is very much about the city and the people of the city. However, here too the encounters with the ‘hidden folk’ are true to the spirit of the land. The author admits she has little to go on: “a few spare and undescriptive words”, but she “brooded over those spare words, trying to capture the character of each creature and its place in that mysterious world at the edge of Australian vision.” The result, to my mind, is convincing and captivating.

The story interweaves different kinds of magic – the older kind is the magic of the land and its creatures, but there is also the illusion magic represented by the Magic Shop, the sorcery of spells and potions in the book found by Benny, the magic of mind manipulation exemplified by the advertising man Ernest Hawke and the magic of the city itself, which could be said to be the child of Commerce. Above them all is the magic of the comet, returning to bypass earth again after a thousand years – in the hour of its arrival the most extraordinary things happen.

There is something of the familiar plot of children and fairy folk combining to upset the plans of the greedy developers – here embodied by the champion of Commerce Sir Mortimer Wyvern who wants to build a car park in the Botanical Gardens. Yet there is no co-operation. The Nyols, small, stone-grey, shadowy creatures who live in underground caverns, are simple and playful – their involvement at the crucial time is entirely accidental. It is Sir Mortimer who comes face to face with them, and his attempts to communicate get him nowhere. The children are pretty much unaware of the old creatures around them, though Selina sometimes catches a puzzling glimpse of the Bitarr, and Benny accidentally conjures a Pot-Koorok, a frog-like swamp trickster, while trying a spell.

I particularly liked the portrayal of the relationship between land and city: “The city… whispered in the splashing of its fountains and breathed in the tides of its harbour. It spread its net of lights to shut out the stars, and held the land in a grip of concrete and steel. Yet deep under the city, forgotten under the concrete, the land was still there. Its soil was there, stripped of ferns and shut away forever from the sun. Its stone was there, deep and abiding; and out of the stone the Nyols crept, the old creatures of the land.”

The Song of Wirrun by Patricia WrightsonRobin: The Song of Wirrun is a trilogy set in modern Australia in which a young man of the People encounters the ancient spirits of the land. The author, whose own ancestry is European, draws on aboriginal mythology in her depiction of the “gnomes and heroes and monsters” of Australia. Rather than transplanting elves and dragons and the like to an alien country, she looks for “another kind of magic,” one that belongs. She divides the humans of Australia into three races: the Happy Folk, the Inlanders and the People. Yet “the oldest race of all lives among them and is hidden. This is a race of creatures born of the land itself: of red rocks and secret waters, dust-devils and far places, green jungle and copper-blue saltbush. They are sly and secret creatures. The People have known of them for a long time and said little. As for the other two races, if a man of them ever meets an earth-spirit he is silent for lack of a word and so no word is said.”

Many of the spirits, particularly those referred to as “earth-things” – have their own particular place and do not tend to travel. It is when they roam abroad that the People, who have their own old songs and rituals for the purpose, must take a hand. This is perhaps the biggest difference apart from the setting – that the knowledge and traditions of the “old ones” are believed and respected, not dismissed as fanciful and out of date. These books are not only unusual and fascinating, but powerful and haunting.

The trilogy is also called The Book of Wirrun. The individual books are: The Ice Is Coming; The Dark Bright Water and Journey Behind the Wind (sometimes just called Behind the Wind)

The Ice Is Coming The Ice is Coming by Patricia Wrightson
The Ninya are ice men who live in ice caverns under the burning desert in the heart of Australia. “They are the makers of ice and their blood is white.” Though green-eyed and beautiful, they are quarrelsome and ruthless. They once, aeons ago, ruled the land, but were driven back by the Eldest Nargun, a rock spirit with the power of fire. Their leader proposes that they should travel south and conquer their ancient enemy, so that they may rule the land once more.

As they debate, a Mimi, a frail rock-spirit of the north, is swept up by the winds and dropped in the centre of the country where Wirrun, a young man of the People, is camping. He doesn’t see her. Nor does he see the Ninya, though he sees ice on his water bag and a brief vision of an inverted landscape. Enough to worry him and eventually lead to a meeting with the spirit of the mountain, the hero Ko-in, who guides him to a hidden power of the People and unites him with the Mimi. For the danger is to all the races of the land.

The reluctant Mimi teaches Wirrun how to fly on the wind and acts as a go-between with the earth spirits he encounters – the fierce little Wa-tha-gun-darl, the grey Nyols, the clawed Bagini, the white bird-spirits called Yauruks, and others. Even the fearsome Bunyip helps in its startling way.

The Dark Bright Water by Patricia WrightsonThe Dark Bright Water
While the Mimi, heroine of The Ice Is Coming, is on her long way home travelling through the rocks, another spirit from her country finds herself far from home. The dark-haired Yunggamurra, water-spirits of the northern rivers, who appear silver-grey from their coating of river-slime, are playful and excitable, but can be dangerous to the unwary. During a fierce storm, one is torn out to sea, where the salt water burns her, and in a desperate attempt to get back to fresh water, she becomes lost in tunnels and caverns under the earth. She is lonely and desolate: “She was used to wild laughter and singing, savage play and the joining of hands – all her life, wherever she looked, she had seen herself everywhere in her sisters. Alone she had no self.” When she falls prey to some jealous earth spirits, the disturbance is felt over a wide area.

Meanwhile, Wirrun is finding it hard to be regarded as a hero, only wanting to retire back to normal life. He is also haunted by a song, which although he doesn’t realize it, is the calling-magic of the Yunggamurra. When he is summoned back to the central country where the elders suspect a supernatural agency is interfering with the water, he goes unwillingly. Seeing the tracks of the enormous Pungalunga from the air, he is soon convinced that strange spirits are abroad. Mainly female spirits, it seems, including the Unthippa who have no heads, the dancing Mungga-mungga and the tailed wives of Koolen. His cheerful friend Ularra is transformed into a beast by the seductive Abuba. When Wirrun rescues – or captures – the Yunggamurra, he only wants to return her to her sisters, which puzzles her. Doesn’t he know the rules? Well, no… it is almost only by accident that she becomes the golden girl he calls Murra.

She warns him that he should keep her from the water, but he doesn’t have the heart to as she loves it so much, but in Behind the Wind her sisters find and reclaim her. He must win her back as well as facing the unnatural red-eyed monster menacing the land.

Robin: This would be a rather disturbing little booklet if it were not so firmly established as a part of the fictional reality of the Harry Potter Saga – it even has scribbled comments by the young wizard Harry and his friends. As it is, however, it still reveals what it might be like if human beings had knowledge of and power over the magical world: in short, we see the familiar pattern of exploitation and control.

There is a rather sketchy account of how, in the face of persecution by Muggles – that is, non-magic humans – the wizards came to the decision to suppress Muggle knowledge of magic. This necessitated extending their control over all magical creatures; convenient, a sceptical person might think. Exaggerating danger from outsiders is a recognized tool of tyrants. Another chapter explains how the wizarding world came to its classification of creatures into beings, beasts, and spirits. Attempts to distinguish between them based on number of legs or ability to speak proved disastrous; in the end, it seems to have come down to self-classification. Perhaps tellingly, the centaurs and the merpeople chose not to align themselves with the wizard-dominated ‘beings’, preferring beast status.

I have indicated before the sorry portraiture of fairy-kind in this particular world, and here it is highly explicit: “A fairy is a small and decorative beast of little intelligence”, both vain and quarrelsome. It is decidedly insect-like, laying eggs on the underside of leaves and weaving cocoons. The similar doxy (or “biting fairy”) has extra limbs and sharp teeth. Leprechauns get the best entry, being described as “more intelligent than the fairy and less malicious than the imp, the pixie or the Doxy” – however, they are still a wild variety, oddly green in colour.

Also listed are gnomes and trolls, the former an annoying garden pest, the latter fearsome and violent. Although dwarfs and elves are not included, presumably classed as beings (neither race is specifically mentioned in this book), the dwarf-like Red Cap and the elvish Erkling are.

While the casual references to wizards’ use of the blood, eggs and powdered parts of beasts indicate a rather cavalier attitude, I did enjoy the description of various bizarre and wholly original beasts, such as Erumpents and Fwoopers. As an edition of the famous Hogwarts textbook, however, this edition is distinctly lacking. Despite the title, specific locations are not given and descriptions are short, with many details conspicuous by their absence. Above all, no photographs! Ruthless censorship by the Ministry of Magic?

Morlo and his motherColumbine: On the cover of this book you can see a boy swimming with a seal. But this is not just any seal – it is his mother, a selkie. In a moment he will become a seal himself, embracing his destiny as a child of the sea.

This is a truly lovely picture book, with especially gorgeous pictures of the Welsh coastal landscape. The story, told with poetic simplicity, explains how a particular Welsh village came to be deserted, inhabited only by the local wildlife. It begins when a selkie or seal woman falls in love with a local fisherman. Trusting him with her sealskin, she marries him and lives with him for many years before she has to go back to the sea. She has told their children, Ffion and Morlo, stories of life under the sea, of foam palaces and shining cities of gold and pearls.

When the villagers hear about life in the New World from a traveller, they are seized with a longing to go, but do not have enough money for the passage. Ffion and Morlo call their mother from the sea to ask if she can help. Morlo swims with his mother to bring up treasure from the deep.

This second picture is of Ffion, a child of the land although she is the daughter of a selkie.
Ffion