Thomas Tyrrell finds much to admire in The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher, the final book in the Clockwork Crow trilogy.
For three years, every Autumn has brought a new novel by Catherine Fisher. The Clockwork Crow introduced us to Seren Rhys, an inquisitive Victorian orphan bent on solving the mysteries lurking behind the doors of Plas y Fran, home to her new guardians, Captain Jones and Lady Mair. With the aid of her crotchety corvid companion, Seren unravelled the disappearance of their son Tomos Jones and rescued him from the sinister clutches of the Fair Folk, or Tylwyth Teg. In The Velvet Fox, the Tylwyth Teg tried to get their revenge by sending a wicked governess to infiltrate Plas y Fran, turning its denizens against Seren and framing her for mischief she did not commit. In this final novel, Seren and Tomos are on a quest to restore their friend the Clockwork Crow into his original human form, breaking the curse laid upon him by the beautiful and dangerous Midnight Swan. Even if the only way to do so is to strike a bargain with their deadliest enemies, the Tylwyth Teg.
In an age where prequel and sequel trilogies multiply like rabbits, it’s refreshing to read a final volume that firmly ties up loose ends and offers the pleasures of completion. It’s more fitting, given that the possibilities of the series are closing in. The characters and locations of the last book are almost exactly the same as the first, something that might have stifled a less inventive writer. The variety in this trilogy comes in the plot structure, going from mystery to invasion to quest. And if this final book is less enticing than the mystery of The Clockwork Crow, or less thrilling than the otherworldly invasion of The Velvet Fox, there’s a quieter satisfaction to it, as the characters we’ve spent three books with developing and grow. Having seen her saved by the Clockwork Crow time after time, knowing how Seren shudders at the idea of leaving Plas y Fran, we feel the courage and the poignancy in Seren’s decision to put her own freedom at risk by trying to restore the Crow to his human form. The Crow himself hesitates to set out on the quest for the garden of the Midnight Swan, knowing that he’s putting Seren and Tomos in peril for purely selfish ends. We’ve journeyed a long way with these characters, and we’ve seen them risk their lives for each other time after time. The possibility that they might end by sacrificing themselves for each other and being broken apart gives the book its tension—and its satisfying resolution.
Three books, three Autumns. Children who were eleven at the time of the first book will be thirteen at the time of the last, and these three volumes will mark out a crucial tranche of childhood time, without ageing Seren alongside her readership, or suspending her in a Neverland of perpetual childhood adventure. That’s rare and to be valued, in these days when authors and marketing managers have grown so adept in stringing their readers along with prequels and sequels and that new form we need a word for, the same-events-as-the-first-book-but-from-another-character’s-perspective-el. Part of the magic of The Clockwork Crow trilogy is that it closes by winding up its narrative and honouring its characters without ever having overstretched its premise or lost its sense of wonder.
The Midnight Swan by Catherine Fisher is available now from Firefly Press.