Miranda is the eldest of Prospero's brood of magical children. Centuries have passed since the events Shakespeare described in The Tempest, and Miranda has spent them doing her father's bidding, most recently holding together the family company of Prospero, Inc. The company's mission is to give the human world a chance to thrive unharmed by the conflicts and machinations of the spirits and demons, who, when unhappy, produce problematic things like tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
But things are going wrong. Her siblings have scattered, taking with them the magic that used to be used for the good of the Company. Now her father, Prospero, has vanished, leaving a disturbing note:
"I have unwittingly unleashed powers best kept bound. If I fail to constrain
them, they will destroy me an all I have wrought. If you have not seen me since
the writing of this message, assume the worst and warn the family. Counsel my
children to keep close the gifts I have bestowed. Beware the Three Shadowed
Ones!" (page 13, the first page of the book).
So Miranda, ever the dutiful daughter, sets off to find her siblings, following a demon-haunted trail of confused clues and tangled histories. Accompanying her is Mab, a wind spirit who has taken the corporeal form of a noir detective-type. He is bound to her by Prospero's gift to her of the ability to control the winds, and he is, incidentally, one of my favorite fictional spirits ever--smart and funny, keeping a notebook in true detective style, and bitter about being enslaved. Nothing is simple as they try to track down the scattered siblings, because, after all, the Three Shadowed Ones are trying to stop them...
It's a wonderfully complicated, busy, and engaging plot. There are great minor characters, fascinating spirits, demons, and elves, and gripping family history. On the down side, there's also a bit of repetition--we get told the same thoughts the characters are thinking a few too many times, and Miranda is too much The Good Daughter, and is too emotionally stunted and self-centered to be a truly likable, fully-developed character (although a sinister reason for this is suggested). But Mab, and the one sibling that joins them on their journey-- Miranda's insane, homeless, lute-playing, Chimera-hugging little brother--add brightness, as does the intelligent wit of Lamplighter's writing in general.
Here's something in particular I got a kick out off, that I hope illustrates this. Mab, a spirit, calls on humans when doing magical workings:
"To the south, where the penny sat, he said, "The earth of man is an orderly
earth. To enforce this order, I call upon the spirit of Newton.
To the west, where the sun sets, he said over the apple twig, "The fire of man is an
all-consuming fire. To enforce this, I call upon the spirit of Oppenheimer."
And among urban fantasy elements like demons in warehouses, there is an encounter with Santa Claus that made me shiver with its numinous power (I mean it).
For those who like mysteries mixed with their fantasy, tons of detail (magical, historical, familial), and a generous dollop of humor, this is an excellent book. All ends are left loose, and I am very much looking forward to book 2--Prospero In Hell.
I generally don't review adult books, but this one seems like a good YA crossover. Even though Miranda is centuries old, she is still in many respects a teenager, with a lot of growing up to do...and there's the romantic interest question, which floats tantalizingly around the story in proper YA fantasy form (although having written that, I am now wondering if it is more common in YA fantasy for the love interest to be obvious, ala Katsa and Po, Edward and Bella, etc., which is too big a topic to be a coda to a review, so I shall stop).
Here's another review, at Graeme's Fantasy Bookworld, and here's the review that made me read the book, at Fantasy Book Critic.
Graeme has three copies to give away...enter by the 13th of September.