Steve Augarde, Celandine (David Fickling Books, 2005)

Steve Augarde's Celandine is the second volume published in the trilogy that began with The Various, centering on the Wee Folk, who in these tales inhabit a patch of wood on a farm owned by Celandine's family and their descendants.

Celandine is a somewhat difficult child, stubborn and with gifts that are slow to develop. They also happen to be gifts not given to the normal run of humanity, which causes her some trouble when she is sent away to boarding school after steadily worsening relations with her governess end in an attack with intent to do bodily harm. Deciding that enough is enough, she escapes the school and takes up temporary residence in the wood occupied by the Various just before the arrival of the Ickri, who have been wandering for many years and have finally returned. The reunion is somewhat strained. When they parted from the Naiads, who have over time become a group of tribes now known as the Various, the Ickri took with them the Touchstone, a magical talisman that is a guide and portal; the Naiads kept the Orbis, within which the Touchstone rested. Together they completed the spell that brought the talisman to full power. However, the Orbis, which has become only a vague memory to the Various, is lost.

One can, I think, make a very strong case for reading this book first. Chronologically, it occurs during the years of World War I, while The Various is contemporary. It also explains in detail how Celandine became such a revered character among the Troggles, and why Midge is so fascinated by Celandine's picture in the farmhouse. We also see Celandine sensing Midge's presence, as Midge does hers, at the periphery of her awareness, which is at the same time fascinating and a little spooky.

I could, however, have done without the extended sections on Celandine's horrible relationship with her governess and the equally horrible staff and students at the boarding school. This may be something expected by a British audience, but I've seldom seen boarding school passages in any novel that I found tolerable, and regrettably, this is not an exception. While I can see a theoretical importance to the development of Celandine's character, I wish it had been done more concisely.

The whole book is actually fairly grim: we see much more of the dark side of the Ickri, who, while hardly the heroes of The Various, do come off in a better light in that story. I'm actually somewhat ambivalent about that aspect of the book. While I would like to see a little more sweetness and light -- just a touch -- I'm fascinated by the way Augarde subverts the typical idea of "fairies" in his rendering of the Various. They are just as earthly and real in this book as in the first, and certainly not the embodiment of any high-toned ideal of beauty or goodness. Nor, be it said, are they exemplars of evil, or even cold indifference to humans. They are, ultimately, people with their own lives, their own histories, and their own priorities.

While the boarding school passages were a big flaw for me personally, I have to say Celandine is, overall still an engaging story. One of the most interesting things that remains to be seen, however, is where Augarde will go from here.

[Robert M. Tilendis]

Robert Tilendis EarthLink Revolves Around You.