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At the bottom of a fantasy garden

27 June 2014

Vaughan S. Roberts enjoys a novel with echoes of the C of E

Wolf Tide
Catherine Fox
CreateSpace £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT522 )

THE genre of "Young Adult" (YA) fantasy writing continues to expand. It attracts new and established authors who create imaginative worlds that hold up mirrors to the mundane reality of life shaped by 21st century "celebrity" capitalism. Catherine Fox is a recognised writer whose novels have addressed such weighty matters as life, death, forgiveness, complex relationships, and the Church. This is her first venture into YA fantasy.

It is the story of 17-year-old Anabara Nolio and her work as an investigator on the city isle of Laridy. Nolio is called in by the city's university, ostensibly to investigate the loss of books from its library, but, as she delves into the library's stacks and the university's underbelly, a trail of secrets, deceit, and violence emerges. Fox's fantasy world is populated by people with superhuman abilities, fairies, and magical charms, as well as marked by the politics and power struggles found in all societies. Fairies are a subjugated minority.

As a story, it is well-written, and, as an act of imagination, it works on a number of levels - for its intended YA readership, but for older readers as well. Her wit remains sharp: take the observation that "She'd flirt with a temple door if it had a knob on it" - one of my personal favourites.

There will be many (and I count myself among them) who miss Fox's keen and humorous perspective on various dynamics in the Church, but, as the author notes about this book on her blog, "I suspect that at one remove I was still writing about the Church of England." Some characters could be in many congregations, and one explanation of university politics to Nolio will sound familiar to anyone conversant with churches and cathedrals: "Everybody knows there's got to be a huge fundraising drive to finance proper heritage-standard Fairy artisans. Chapter has kept on leaving it for the next generation and hoping the problem will go away. The new scholasticus has finally grasped the nettle. He needs the report quickly, then he can get on applying for grants before the deadline."

Wolf Tide is an intelligent and entertaining addition to the genre.

The Revd Dr Vaughan S. Roberts is the Team Rector of Warwick.

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