As many readers will know, I work at Hatchards Bookshop as The Shop Scribe. In December I revert to my original position in the shop and go back to being a children’s bookseller. This is a delightful time of year in the shop and I have the pleasure of ensuring that as many children as possible wake up on Christmas morning with the books I like (Emma Chichester Clark, Bears Don’t Read, Quentin Blake, Cockatoos, Anna James, Tilly & the Bookwanderers and Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials trilogy, since you asked). The Clockwork Crow was in a pile of books to put away and I realised I hadn’t seen it before. Nothing particularly surprising in that as I’m only in the shop one day a week for most of the year but I was captivated by the jacket – yes, of course I judge a book by its cover.
The story opens on a deserted railway station, with a layer of frost covering everything and a distinctly Victorian feel. A solitary girl waits for a train. I was captivated. The train is meant to be taking her to a wonderful new life in Wales with her godfather Captain James, his wife Lady Mair and their son Tomas, far away from the (slightly predictable) orphanage. The story continues and she is given a mysterious parcel and arrives at the house to find that all is not well. As I read, much seemed reminiscent of other books – the atmosphere in the house was straight from The Secret Garden, the Clockwork Crow was so like the Phoenix from The Phoenix and the Carpet that they could have been cousins, the housekeeper belonged in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and even the parcel and the railway station had echoes of The Box of Delights. That said, this is a very good story, and none of the similarities really annoyed me; perhaps there are only seven plots and everything else has to be recycled. There was a perfect balance of magic, mystery and adventure and, if you liked E. Nesbit’s Phoenix or Wizard Howl from Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, you’ll love the Crow. I leave you with this delightful image as Seren, our heroine, creeps through the house at night: ‘Snow-glimmer lit ceilings and odd corners with a reflected whiteness; the clocks seemed to tick louder and the eyes in the portraits on the walls watched them pass beneath. She felt as if the books and the furniture and the mirrors were all alive and interested’. And just in case you are wondering, it earns its place on this list because the action takes place on the night of Christmas Eve.
As always we would like you to buy this book. Also, as always, we would like you to buy it from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.