________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 12. . . .November 20, 2009


The Story of Cirrus Flux.

Matthew Skelton.
London, UK: Puffin Books (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2009.
315 pp., pbk., $14.00.
ISBN 978-0-141-32037-3.

Subject Headings:
Orphans -Juvenile fiction.
Fantasy fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jeannine Stickle.

**½ /4



‘Aether,’ said Mr Leechcraft, once all eyes were fixed again on him. ‘It is in the air we breathe, the matter we touch. It can be used to nurture and to destroy…’

Now began a series of experiments the likes of which Cirrus had never seen. While he and the audience watched, Mr Leechcraft made paper figurines dance on metal plates, lit candles with nothing more than phials of water and even ignited a rabbit’s bladder, which soared above the stage on a string of flame before erupting into volcanic fire.

And then, just when Cirrus was beginning to tire of the effects, snowflakes drifted to the ground. He glanced up to see Bottle Top scattering a pail of goose feathers.

‘And now see what spirit we can summon from an innocent child,’ said Mr Leechcraft, as Bottle Top began his decent on the swing. ‘Behold! Cupid with the Sparkling Kiss!’

The audience burst into rapturous applause as Bottle Top finally made his entrance. For a moment it seemed to Cirrus as though all the birds in the aviary had been set free, as women cooed and cawed and flapped their fans. And then something else caught his eye: a gentleman seated near the back of the theatre, a diminutive figure in a chair on wheels. He was holding a lens and leaning forward to get a better view of the boy on stage.

Cirrus felt a knot of apprehension in his stomach as he realized this was almost certainly the gentleman Mr Leechcraft was so keen to impress. The gentleman from the Guild.

Two 12-year-old orphans, Cirrus Flux and Pandora, face a world filled with danger, cruelty and loneliness to eventually find safety and friendship in this fast-paced historical fantasy. This second novel by Matthew Skelton focuses on the scientific community of Georgian London, England, and tells the parallel stories of Cirrus and Pandora, set in 1783, interspersed with snippets from the adventures of James Flux, Cirrus's father, set between 1756 and 1772. The story opens at the Founding Hospital where Cirrus and Pandora live among other orphaned children and wait for apprenticeships. Cirrus and his best friend, Bottle Top, discover a strange man, accompanied by a fiery bird, who seems to be watching the Foundling Hospital while the appropriately-named curious Pandora is accidentally apprenticed to a mysterious and forceful woman named Madame Orrery, a mesmerist and member of the Guild of Empirical Science. Pandora quickly discovers that Madame Orrery is aggressively pursuing the token, a miniature globe worn on a necklace, that Cirrus’s father has left him, which is filled with a magical power called the Breath of God. She escapes Madame Orrery’s watchful eye and finds Cirrus at the Hospital to warn him about the danger. Cirrus escapes the hospital and seeks shelter with Bottle Top, who has been apprenticed to a greedy museum owner who performs exhibitions that include electrocuting young boys in front of a captive audience. Meanwhile, Madame Orrery partners with Mr. Sidereal, another member of the Guild of Empirical Science who is interested in Cirrus’s sphere, to help her find Cirrus and the Breath of God. Pandora partners with Felix Hardy, Cirrus’s father’s best friend, to find and save Cirrus. Mr. Hardy is the man who Cirrus noticed watching the hospital, and he is indeed accompanied by a bird whose body is constantly aflame, and he uses her to power a self-created hot air balloon. After many perilous adventures, the Breath of God is saved from villainous hands, and Mr. Hardy, Cirrus and Pandora find safety and friendship together.

     The fantasy elements in this novel seem to be included as afterthought and are not fully developed. Though the fiery bird’s origins are explained to Pandora, it seems that her only purpose in the story is to power the hot air balloon, a historical element of the novel that Skelton explains in the “Meet the Author” section at the back of the book. The larger disappointment is that, though the Breath of God is described as having tremendous power, it is never explained what it will enable its holder to do. It is explained that it is imperative that it be kept from the greedy hands of Madame Orrery and Mr. Sidereal, but the lack of a concrete motive for wanting it detracts from the suspense of their pursuit and sense of urgency in its rescue. The historical elements are more interesting. Skelton mentions in the “Meet the Author” segment that the historical period was what inspired him to write this book. He includes historical facts from the scientific community from that period, such as the invention of hot air balloons and an early wheelchair and the holding of human electrocutions for public spectators. An author’s note at the end of the book to discuss the historical aspects in more detail would greatly enhance the appreciation of the book and scientific history, especially, as many readers might assume these aspects are part of the fantastical elements.

     This book will appeal to boys and girls alike. It is recommended for fans of fast-paced historically-set fantasy, such as Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s “The Starcatchers” series.


Jeannine Stickle is a Library and Information Studies student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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