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The Two Princesses of BamarreColumbine: The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in an unusual world. The humans are quite beset by an array of dangerous magical creatures, so that they are always in jeopardy if they venture far from their own area and are not at all safe at home. Worse yet is the Grey Death, a mysterious creeping sickness.

This is mostly the story of the quest of one of the princesses to find a cure, and her encounters with ogres, spectres, gryphons and a lonely dragon. The fairies do not come in until almost the end, but they are the most grand fairies there ever were. Really, they are almost like angels.

The elves are by contrast quite homely. The princesses know them as nurses, a role they have taken up since the legendary hero Drualt saved their queen from gryphons. Milton, the princess’s nurse, is in addition a great knitter. Bamarre is also home to a unique kind of being; they are called sorcerers but are not the usual sort. Born when a lightning bolt hits marble, they have a flame for a heart and may live five hundred years. They can fly and have great magical skills. Rhys, the royal sorcerer, is particularly adept at calling clouds from the sky.

But of course you are wanting to hear about the fairies! The princesses believe that the fairies of their world can cure the Grey Death: that they can, in fact, do anything. They have not been seen by humans for hundreds of years and have been sorely missed. But when the monsters attack at the very foot of the fairies’ invisible mountain, the courage of the two princesses inspires them to intervene. They appear as human-shaped creatures within whorls of coloured light. These beings of light rescue the injured humans and send a healing rain over the whole realm. Their magical abilities are so great they can even move the stars. This is only the beginning of their marvellousness, because it seems they are fighting all the time to protect the world: “There are monsters deep in the oceans and high in the sky that threaten all the kingdoms… Eternal night hovers above our daylight. We fight monsters in that inky dark. A host of fairies is fighting now.” Although they are so remote and even a bit intimidating, some of them were once human; on the brink of death they had been given the opportunity to join the radiance of fairy life. I think that’s rather wonderful.

This is not only an exciting adventure with lots of danger and bravery but a rather sweet romance; and all with a light and amusing touch. The author also wrote Ella Enchanted and Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg.

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House of Many WaysThis book is set in a magical otherworld, one in which wizards and witches abound and magic is somewhat commonplace, though there are those, like Charmain’s mother, who don’t think it quite respectable. Charmain, who has never been either encouraged or inclined to do anything except read, is quite unprepared to look after a magical house and a self-willed little dog, even with the help of a hapless would-be wizard’s apprentice. She would rather work in the king’s library, but even there she is enlisted by the Wizard Howl and his wife Sophie to help solve the mystery of the realm’s vanishing revenues.

Elves and kobolds are the members of the Folk who appear in this book. I do not of course count the loathsome insectile lubbock or its evil humanoid offspring.

The elves appear as a kind of magical medical personnel, taking the afflicted Wizard Norland away to be cured. “A procession of tall, tall elves walked quietly in. They were all most medically dressed in white and there was no expression on their beautiful faces at all.” Charmain finds them quite unnerving, their gentle gracefulness making her feel clumsy and disorderly. One of the elves returns later, and is similarly grave and calm, despite the alarming news he brings. We also learn that the royal family has elven ancestors, and indeed the King is notably tall and mild. He confides in Charmain: “Nobody really trusts elves. Great mistake, in my opinion.” He later mentions in connection with the unpleasant characters of some of his family: “They tell me it can be like that when elf blood goes sour, but I think it’s just people, really.” A mysterious Elfgift is supposed to bring prosperity and protection to the kingdom but it has been missing for a long time.

The kobolds, by contrast, are small, blue and ugly. Charmain first encounters Rollo, the wizard’s gardener, when he tries to trick her into letting him chop down the wizard’s hydrangeas. His face is described as “crumpled with bad-tempered wrinkles and almost filled with a big nose.” Later on, Charmain and Peter (the apprentice) are mobbed by angry kobolds, “little blue men with different shapes of large blue noses” and “little blue women… distinguished by their smaller, gentler noses and their rather stylish flounced blue skirts.” They are angry because they disapprove of the multicoloured hydrangeas – hydrangeas should be blue, and they blame the wizard. It seems the kobolds normally take care of the wizard’s house and garden, working only at night like brownies, but they are clearly on strike and have gone so far as to magically remove the taps from the wizard’s kitchen. It is later discovered that greedy Rollo has been bribed by the lubbock to make trouble.

The kobolds live in a cave which can be reached by one of the house’s “many ways”. They are clearly skilled craftsmen, making rocking horses, dolls’ houses, cuckoo clocks and so on. Charmain finds them building a magnificent sled chair, a commission for the elves – apparently the elves always pay well.

There is at least one other tribe of kobolds in the country, in the service of the unpleasant Crown Prince. This lot are more greyish-green than blue and look unhappy and unhealthy. The chief blue kobold agrees with Charmain that they are in a bad way, but shrugs “they have not asked for help yet.” It seems hydrangeas are more worth making a fuss about.

The ending of the book is quite splendidly satisfactory, with the wizard returning, and the Elfgift found, prosperity restored and in general everyone suited.

Robin: I think you should perhaps mention the fire demon Calcifer – who is not so much a demon in the usual sense, more of an elemental spirit in the form of a fiery blue teardrop. He also appears in the two earlier books Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air (heavily disguised in the latter), and it seems he was originally a star which fell to earth. Not conventional Folk, but very strongly magical.

Faerie Wars Chronicles Robin: The four books of this otherworld quartet are Faerie Wars, The Purple Emperor, Ruler of the Realm and Faerie Lord.

The Faerie Wars Chronicles encompass three dimensions, the Faerie Realm, Earth (which the Faeries call the Analogue World) and Hael. Portals, very occasionally natural, usually controlled by a magical technology, enable the inhabitants to pass between the dimensions. Most people on Earth are unaware of them, and in the Faerie Realm the technology is extremely expensive, so the Royal Family’s portal is one of the very few. The inhabitants of Hael seem to be able to get to Earth fairly easily, and their transports are occasionally seen (and called flying saucers, but that’s another matter); getting to the Faerie Realm seems more problematic, although Faerie sorcerers can open small portals with dark magic to “summon” the inhabitants of Hael (demons, as they see them). Yes, they’re pretty scary. And definitely up to no good.

The Faeries first discovered Earth when a small group of them were shipwrecked on a barren island. They found a glowing portal which led to a land of abundance. They kept returning home in hope of a rescue, before giving up hope and leaving a record for future travellers.

At the time the Chronicles are set, this event is in the distant past, and the descendants of the shipwrecked group have long made their home on Earth, while in the Faerie Realm, the natural portal on the island has been studied, copied and improved upon. The one big disadvantage of the portal had been that passing through it into an alien dimension turned the travellers into tiny winged versions of themselves, but the Faerie technicians have solved that problem, as well as being able to “aim” the portal anywhere they wish.

The Faerie Realm is home to several races but the most prominent in the Chronicles are the Faeries of the Light and the Faeries of the Night. They live in a state of simmering hostility, blandished over with truces and alliances. Nominally the Faeries of the Light have the upper hand, with Apatura Iris ruling as the Purple Emperor. The Royal Family lives in the Purple Palace, an ancient and mysterious building. The Faeries of the Night are led by Black Hairstreak.

Their Analogue World cousins notwithstanding, these Faeries do not seem to be much distinguished from the humans of Earth except by the use of magic, which also forms the basis of a very unusual technology. Their capital is a sprawling old city which like the politics and the economy verges on the mediaeval. There is a fair amount of poverty, crime and inferior magic about, as the rich and powerful control the better spells. Religion is in the background, as one of the differences between the Lighters and Nighters, but is not elaborated upon. Some of the Faeries of the Night practice a very dark magic indeed and have contact with demons, goblins and imps.

It is interesting, although it doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the story, that the Faerie characters’ names are also the names of butterflies and moths on Earth.

The Faerie Wars series is very enjoyable, packed with action, with unusual concepts and situations, strongly-drawn characters, plots with plenty of twists and turns. The Faerie Realm is no sunny Fairyland, but with all its political manoeuvring and compromise, the ugly threat of war, the shocking cruelties of the opposition, it is still full of life and energy.

Also see:

Faerie Wars


The Purple Emperor


Ruler of the Realm


Faerie Lord

Faerie WarsRobin: This book is the first of The Faerie Wars Chronicles. It has two heroes, a heroine and Mr Fogarty. The English boy Henry is a somewhat stolid hero, not one to leap into adventure, but starting off unsettled probably gives him an advantage. Restrain the desire to yawn through the first couple of chapters which deal with Henry’s dull family woes – and steel yourself for embarrassing conversations whenever his relations show up. No wonder he would rather clean out Mr Fogarty’s garden shed!

Just as something interesting seems to be about to happen, the scene shifts to the Faerie Realm. Expect more sudden and frustrating shifts throughout the Faerie Wars Chronicles – you are forever leaving one character in the throes in order to visit another.

Pyrgus Malvae is the rebellious son of the Purple Emperor. His wild ways and soft spot for animals have landed him in trouble with both Lord Hairstreak and the evil sorcerer Brimstone. He comes within a hair’s breadth of being sacrificed to the demon Beleth. His father decides to send him to a safe island in the Analogue World, but the portal malfunctions, sending Pyrgus off course. The filter which controls the size change has also been tampered with, leaving him disoriented and vulnerable in an English suburban garden.

Pyrgus when Henry first meets him Henry rescues Pyrgus from Mr Fogarty’s cat, absolutely amazed to meet a fairy. Fortunately Mr Fogarty, Henry’s eccentric elderly friend, is smarter than the average human. Not only does he believe in fairies – and in flying saucers – but he is able to construct a working portal based on Pyrgus’s information. Mind you, the conversation between Henry and Mr Fogarty about whether the prince can be trusted is priceless – “What could be more innocent than a cute little fairy with butterfly wings, in trouble?… How far do you think you’d trust him if he was green with tentacles?” Pyrgus assures them he is not part of an invasion force: “We don’t have very many people using gates to your world. Why would we? It rains a lot here.”

Meanwhile in the Faerie Realm, the political situation is hotting up. Secret negotiations are going on. Lord Hairstreak has troops out “practising manoeuvres”. Pyrgus’s brilliant sister Holly Blue is worried, especially when she hears someone is plotting to murder her brother, the heir to the throne. Her skills in disguise and spell-detection, as well as her extensive spy network, make her a formidable opponent.

The Faerie Wars seem about to break out – but is all as it seems? The Faeries of the Night have nowhere near enough troops to launch a successful offensive. Are they just posturing or could they have formed an alliance with some more deadly enemy?

The next book is The Purple Emperor.

The Purple EmperorRobin: This book is the second of The Faerie Wars Chronicles. It is my favourite of the series so far, despite the head-spinning speed of the shifts between the characters and their different storylines.

Pyrgus is not entirely happy about becoming the Purple Emperor – and suddenly it appears he won’t have to be. Apatura Iris has returned – but unfortunately as a zombie in the power of Lord Hairstreak. Pyrgus and Holly are banished on suspicion of treason while the Faeries of the Night seem poised to take over. The demons are still plotting their own war, and there is a fermenting conspiracy of mind-controlling wyrms…

This time round it is Henry who has to cope with being in an outsized world. He enjoys the flying part, but then he encounters a tame spider (but how tame can spiders really be?) and a mad queen.

One of the most interesting things about this volume of the Faerie Wars Chronicles is the introduction of the Forest Faeries. They are the Hidden People of the Faerie Realm, similar to the fairies of Earth. Unseen and regarded as uncivilized “feral faeries” by the Faeries of the Light and Night, they are actually more numerous and sophisticated than anyone suspects. While owing no allegiance to the Faeries of the Light, they regard Lord Hairstreak as their enemy for building his new mansion in their forest.

The next book is Ruler of the Realm.

Ruler of the RealmRobin: This book is the third of The Faerie Wars Chronicles. Beleth the head demon has laid his plans carefully. He cannot get through to the Faerie Realm from Hael, but he can get to Earth. He sends one of his flying saucers after Henry. In time-honoured fashion, Henry is abducted and implanted, then returned to Earth with no memory of his three missing days. What are those aliens/demons up to this time?

After the devastating events of The Purple Emperor Holly Blue is now the Queen of Faerie. She cannot decide whether to attack the Nighters before they attack the Light forces, or to consider an alliance with them. She seeks the advice of an Oracle, but as Mr Fogarty points out, oracles are tricky to interpret.

When she and Henry magically disappear during a diplomatic mission, Pyrgus, Mr Fogarty and Holly’s head spy, the Painted Lady, are all baffled, and again enlist the help of the Forest Faeries. Lord Hairstreak seizes the opportunity to get onto a war footing once more. Holly must be found before hostilities break out.

Pyrgus finally gets to use his magical Halek crystal knife, which we first heard about in Faerie Wars. He also teams up with the Forest Faerie princess Nymphalis on a spying mission which has some rather unexpected results.

The next book is Faerie Lord.

Faerie Lord Robin: Faerie Lord is the concluding book of the Faerie Wars Chronicles. It is not war which threatens the Faerie Realm this time, but pestilence – though all it not as it seems. Temporal Fever is stealing the future years of anyone who catches it, including Mr. Fogarty, who didn’t have many future years to start with. Lord Hairstreak and his reluctant underlings Brimstone and Chalkhill are yet again up to something, but the jaw-dropping truth is not revealed until near the end. And that is after Brimstone is mad enough to summon the Midgard Serpent – yes, that Midgard Serpent – and hooks Loki too.

There is pleasingly little about Henry’s boring Analogue life, though enough to make you wonder at his ever returning to it. Madame Cardui, the Painted Lady, is less than enchanted by her visit there, finding even its sunshine unappealing. For a book which starts with a proposal and ends with a wedding, there is also less slush than you might expect. Romance is amusingly undermined by the mock-heroic scene devised by the trickster god.

Henry, that unlikely hero, is driven to wonder at one point if life could get any stranger: “He was in fairyland, halfway up a mountain with a little blue boy, talking to a giant hare.” Yes, weird, but wonderful.

Still in the works is Boy Brimstone, presumably the early life of the vile sorcerer, necromancer and demonologist who skulks through the Chronicles. His boyhood must have been long ago in the Faerie Realm, and perhaps we will learn more about the Purple Palace, even who lived there before the ascendancy of the Faeries of the Light. Most of the Chronicles characters would be too young to appear, but perhaps the Painted Lady? I am sure she had a fascinating life as a youngster. I wonder about her husband, the Great Myphisto, who performed miracles without magic. Could he have been from the Analogue World?

I am still hoping to see something of the Earth Realm faeries, if only to see how differently they had developed, if their magic had changed at all, for example. But perhaps they could play a larger part? After all, Earth (aka the Analogue World) is beset by the demon horde too.