With the arrival of The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters imminent, I must admit I’m rather frightened as to what the marketing department has in store for us. Will we be getting Frodo dolls and plastic rings with every Whopper? Will cartoon Ringwraiths sell us Pepsi? With that in mind, it might be a good idea to ride the last horse out Middle-Earth, and travel for awhile in different climes. May I suggest Dere, the seedy and smoke-filled factory town in Winter’s Orphans?
It is hard to imagine a place more diametrically opposed to Rivendell and The Shire. Author Elaine Corvidae plants us firmly in the filth of an industrial, Victorian-era river town, and the only ring in sight is the iron one our heroine, the indentured servant Mina, wears around her neck as she works long hours in a textile mill. But there’s magic to be found, even here—in Mina herself, unfortunately.
“It began the day the girl was dragged into the machinery,” is the telling first line of the story. By using her magic to stop the looms, Mina starts a chain of events that brings her face to face with her heritage—she’s a faeling, an orphan whose mother was human but whose father was a fae (or faerie). The fae genes she got from pop give her magical powers, and when they are discovered by Duncan, a faeling teacher of sorts, Mina becomes his student. She also, unfortunately, attracts the notice Dere’s noble house, who are secretly faelings themselves—of a very nasty sort. Jealous of any magic not under her control, their queen, Rhiannon, dispatches invisible hounds to hunt her down ... and so let the games begin.
The premise of Winter’s Orphans—that of a young hero or heroine developing special powers and eventually doing battle with a force of evil—dates from ancient times. From King Arthur being taught by Merlin, to Luke and Obi-Wan, Harry Potter at Hogwarts and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the student learning magic has been a popular subject and shows no signs of flagging. As we follow her from the mill floor to an abandoned theater, and from debtor’s prison to a burlesque club, we discover Mina to be a more difficult student than those mentioned above, due to her (understandable) fatalism, drinking, and growing attraction to Duncan.
After the first fifty pages or so, the scene is pretty much set, but Corvidae keeps us involved with colorful descriptions of Dere’s squalid underside, and the increasingly romantic relationship between Mina and Duncan. The magical aspects are also fascinating—and well rooted in British faerie-lore. Published by Novel Books Inc., the book will be hard to find in stores, but is available in paperback from NBI’s web site (www.novelbooksinc.com). And, as it has more in common with Dickens than Tolkein, the chances of a movie and marketing blitz are pretty slim. Well, even if that does happen—heck, we still have Dostoyevsky. Like a Raskolnikov action figure with that Happy Meal? I don’t think so.
- Joel Van Valin