of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
British author Catherine Fisher is well known in her own country (where she won the Whitbread Award in 2003) but she's just beginning to make a splash here in the States. Exceptionally well-constructed fantasy worlds and dexterously crafted characters mark her books, which appeal equally to female and male readers. The middle-grade fantasy novels that won her reputation in Britain "are heavily influenced by Britain's past" (Something about the Author, Vol. 155, p. 85); however, the fantasy epics that are beginning to build her American readership draw their inspiration from desert and arctic cultures rather than British, and their focus and protagonists place them solidly in the YA camp.
Fisher's first publication here, The Oracle Betrayed (BCCB 6/04), is set in a magnificently complex cultural matrix of spiritual and political maneuvering within the desert city of a (fictitious) famous temple. Mirany, a female acolyte, must advance the agenda of the god of the Oracle against that of high-ranking officials who would subvert the temple infrastructure to serve their own ambitions. With an intriguingly mercurial god popping up throughout the novel to interfere in the lives of Mirany and her friend Seth and bring them under the potentially lethal eye of those in power, The Oracle Betrayed maintains a rapid pace that makes its 300-plus pages seem too few.
Mirany's tale grows in suspense and depth in The Sphere of Secrets, as the corrupt officials continue their plotting to overthrow the newly installed Archon, the human incarnation of the god of the Oracle. Seth, painfully conflicted after being blackmailed into compliance with his enemies, follows the Archon on a seemingly pointless quest across country to placate another deity who has withheld rain from the land for generations past. Again, Mirany's trust in her god is challenged and strengthened as she takes stands that seem certain to result in her death, only to be proven right when "always at the last minute, always in a style that is quirkily off-center" the god comes through. That cliffhanger plot, combined with the subtle development of theme and the "sophisticated yet unobtrusive prose" (BCCB 3/05) allows this second in the trilogy to maintain the high standards set by the first book.
Another Fisher import, Snow-walker (BCCB 10/04), delivers a similarly well-written but very different story. Originally published in Britain as a trilogy ( Snow-Walker's Son, Empty Hand, and Soul Thieves ), Snow-walker follows Jessa, a young noblewoman of a northern country, to the fortress of her exiled prince, Kari, who is rumored to be a misshapen monster. Instead, Kari is revealed to be a budding wizard who strongly resembles his mother, a witch from arctic lands. Kari's growth as a humane but powerful ruler, gifted enough to vanquish his predatory mother, drives the action in this compellingly atmospheric tale of loyalty, honor, hate, and treachery in the wilds of the north. As one of the Bulletin reviewing staff commented, "I actually got cold reading this book."
With a backlist of potential new imports already in place and another Oracle book on the way, Fisher is nicely positioned to take the United States market by storm. She has already succeeded in making her worlds of heat and cold seemówell, ultra-cool.
--Timnah Card, reviewer
The Oracle Betrayed: Book One of the Oracle Prophecies. Greenwillow, 2004. (BCCB 6/04)
Snow-walker. Eos/Greenwillow, 2004. (BCCB 10/04)
The Sphere of Secrets. Greenwillow, 2005. (BCCB 3/05)