'He liked to do it this way: walking easily and leisurely from then to now just as you'd walk from here to there, so that the passage of time took on the feel of a hike along a gusty road, the years passing on all sides like buffeting leaves in a hard wind.'
A very special author
Regular readers of this blog will know that I rate US author Kate Milford as one of the most important, exciting and original contemporary writers of children's fiction. Taken as a whole, her body of work is up with the finest creations in the genre.* So the first hardback edition of her novel Bluecrowne has to be one of my highlights of the publishing year.
Each novel in her growing opus is essentially complete in itself. Only Ghosts of Greenglass House can really be called a sequel (to Greenglass House, obviously). Some of her books are indeed quite different in character and atmosphere. Yet all are interrelated in intriguing ways; they are all ultimately part of the same world. Sometimes the books are linked by place, sometimes by the reappearance of particular objects. They sometimes tell stories about different generations of the same family, and many feature the same enigmatic figures, 'Jumpers' who are able to travel across time as well as place.
A very special world
The books cover slightly different periods from a span of history that is almost, but not quite, real history. They are not chronological in their writing order, but can be arranged into a chronology. They are set in places that are almost, but not quite, real places. They can be arranged on a map, which is almost, but not quite, a real map. They contain elements of fantasy and rich folklore and are almost, but not quite, fantasies. They are not quite like anything other than themselves; but they are very special and very wonderful. Each one is a completely enthralling read in its own right; intriguing and exciting; sometimes a little scary, but warm and life-enhancing too. Yet it is as a whole that this group of novels is at its most glorious, in building up its unspeakably rich and rewarding tapestry of hugely imaginative fiction. Many an emotional or intellectual tingle arises from gleefully recognising elements as you move from one story to another, discovering ever more of what you know, and what you don't know, about this world and its people. It is pure reading joy, I promise you.
A very special book
Of the various components of her world, two complete, shorter novels, The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne have, until now, only been available in e-book format. Yet both are significant and hugely enjoyable works. Bluecrowne is not only an engrossing read in its own right, but also a key link between her other books. It fills in an early history for Greenglass House itself, but also links directly to The Left-handed Fate and, through the character of firework genius, Liao, to The Broken Lands. Involvement from the enigmatic 'Jumpers' also ties it back to The Boneshaker and to The Kairos Mechanism. It is therefore a truly wonderful thing to at last have Bluecrowne in book form. Even more pleasure is to be found in the fact that this is now a most handsome hardback, with a striking jacket from Jaime Zollars and enchanting internal images by Nicole Wong. These latter also subtly but effectively enhance the book's delightful representation of an ethnically diverse range of characters, with both girl and boy characters playing strong lead roles.
Those who have already read Bluecrowne on screen need to be aware that this is not a different novel, only a new, lightly re-edited version. Nevertheless, to be able to shelve this exciting book alongside the author's others is a treat. Hopefully it will attract many new readers too, both as a follow up to the very popular Greenglass House books, and as a lead on to Kate Milford's other novels. Because they dot about between people, places and times, they do not need to be read in any particular order. However, though each book is outstandingly rewarding in itself, it is her interlocking world as a whole that is her towering achievement and one of the greatest reading experiences of contemporary children's literature. Do not miss any of them.
A very special wish
The books' American background should present no barrier to accessibility for those from other countries and cultures, and I most heartily recommend all to seek them out. I very much hope that a matching volume of The Kairos Mechanism will be published very soon. This is in addition, of course, to my longing for Kate Milford to add further new dimensions to her wondrous world.
* See my earlier posts from September, November and December '16 and November '17.