This is the sequel to the justly praised The Clockwork Crow, reviewed here. If you recall, this was set in the late 19th century when the orphaned Seren had come to live with her godparents in their remote Welsh mansion. The house was sad because their son Tomos had been stolen by the Tylwyth Teg (Fair Folk, who are fair only in the sense of good-looking) and Seren, with the aid of a cantankerous dabbler in magic who has been enchanted into the form of a clockwork crow, frees him on Christmas Eve.
The Clockwork Crow was wintry, all silver and snow; indeed the key to its mystery was a snow globe. This sequel is autumnal, and the artefact through which the Folk exercise their malignant power is a toy carousel. They feel they have a claim to the house, and return to recommence tormenting its occupants when Tomos unwisely boasts of his escape:
Tomos tossed armfuls into the air. "I'm safe! They will never get me now! Never!"
As soon as he yelled the words a gust of cold wind came out of nowhere. It whipped the leaves, scattering them like red rags over the grass, flinging them angrily aside.
Seren shivered. It was a strange, icy wind. It smelled of danger.
"Tomos, I don't think you should…"
"We beat the Fair Family, Seren!" He laughed as the leaves fell on his upturned face. "You and me and the Crow! We're safe from Them now! Safe. Forever!"
The wind lifted the leaves. They swirled in strange patterns, high into the air. A vast arc of them gusted down the driveway, past the gate.
And Seren blinked. For the red and copper and golden leaves shimmered and transformed, condensed and clotted into a strange glittering mass; it became a red carriage with four wheels and two bright-chestnut horses, galloping towards her out of the swirl.
As we may guess, this vehicle is carrying the latest manifestation of the otherworldly beings who caused all the trouble last time, and this parallel world is created with all Fisher's usual infectious imagination and ingenuity. But alongside the otherworld, events in the real world are fascinating too. The previous book looked to have ended with Seren having found a home; here it looks less secure and we are made painfully aware of her precarious position as a not-quite-member of the family. The Fair Folk's machinations may be to blame, but her adoptive family are too quick to mistrust someone to whom they owe so much. Though by the end all seems well, we sense that the otherworlders have not finished with the house and that Seren may again need the Crow's help.
The Crow of course is as bad-tempered and as little inclined to suffer fools gladly as ever. Fisher avers that it is his character that made this book a "blast" to write. One can believe it, because the momentum throughout is terrific. Just like last time, this was unputdownable. With the first book, this was mainly down to the writing style and the sense of danger in the otherworld. This time, there is an added ingredient: the developing real-world situation of Seren. I honestly didn't think anything could top The Clockwork Crow in its field, but I think this is one of those times when a sequel may actually have outdone the original. I would guess there is going to be a third, and I really hope so.