London, 1783. Orphan Cirrus Flux is being watched. Merciless villains are conniving to steal the world’s most divine power—The Breath of God—which they believe Cirrus has inherited. Now he faces a perilous journey through the dirty backstreets of the city as a sinister mesmerist, a tiny man with an all-seeing eye, and a skull-collecting scoundrel pursue him. Cirrus must escape them, but he’ll need to trust some unlikely allies if he hopes to thwart his foes . . . and survive a ...
London, 1783. Orphan Cirrus Flux is being watched. Merciless villains are conniving to steal the world’s most divine power—The Breath of God—which they believe Cirrus has inherited. Now he faces a perilous journey through the dirty backstreets of the city as a sinister mesmerist, a tiny man with an all-seeing eye, and a skull-collecting scoundrel pursue him. Cirrus must escape them, but he’ll need to trust some unlikely allies if he hopes to thwart his foes . . . and survive a grand and terrifying showdown.
Set against the backdrop of 18th-century London and the Age of Enlightenment, Skelton's suspenseful fantasy adventure is filled with themes of greed, abuse, trust and betrayal played out within a cast of nefarious villains and daring heroes. Twelve-year-old orphan Cirrus Flux unknowingly possesses a divine power-access to "the breath of God." Mystery and intrigue are generated through a series of alternating flashbacks set 12 years apart delineating a father's fatal quest to reach the gates of heaven in order to find his wife, who died in childbirth, and a boy's search for his heritage. Utilizing contemporary scientific experiments in illusion, hot-air balloons and hypnosis, the well-developed characters (who include a wicked mesmerist and the enterprising director of a "Hall of Wonders" museum) feverishly connive to steal the only remnant of Cirrus's inherited treasure, a small spherical trinket that, when opened, reveals the supposed access to the celestial hereafter. The author deftly builds his story from past to present, providing unexpected twists right up to the chaotic yet satisfying conclusion. (Historical fantasy. 10-14)
- Lois Rubin Gross
In the Age of Enlightenment, new ideas such as healing mesmerism and hot air balloon transport are faddishly popular. Two older orphans, Cirrus and Pandora, leave their foundling home to seek their fortunes, the former as a runaway and the latter as an apprentice. Each orphan at the Foundling Hospital has been left with a token from his or her parent, and Cirrus' memento has attracted the attention of the members of the dastardly Guild. Cirrus filches his amulet—a globe on a chain—and sets out to find out why he was abandoned and his care was pre-paid at the princely sum of 100 pounds. Little does Cirrus know that his charm contains the "Breath of God," a mystical vapor gathered by his father at the edge of the world. Distaff orphan Pandora has a less desirable token, an embroidered cloth with the word "hope," but hope is just what she needs as she and a balloonist, Mr. Hardy, search for Cirrus through the grim streets of London. Do not be surprised if this is the next book to be made into a 3D animation film. It has all of the elements: suspense, action, fantasy, a taste of history, and a flaming Halcyon bird that would "pop" from the movie screen. Plot is sometimes misplaced in the frenetic activity of the search for Cirrus Flux, but forgive this book its excesses. It will be an easy sell to readers on the lookout for the next fantasy hero. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
- Rachel Wadham
It's 1783 and orphan Cirrus Flux has lived a peaceful life in a London foundling hospital since his birth. One day, he and his friend and fellow orphan Bottle Top see a scary man lurking about the hospital grounds. From this moment on Cirrus, Bottle Top and another orphan Pandora are sucked into a mysterious world where evil men and women from The Guild of Empirical Science will do anything to retrieve the small globe left to Cirrus by his father. This globe contains an inexplicable power. Finding help in unlikely places, Cirrus and his friends must band together to stop The Guild from harnessing the power of the globe. Switching between Cirrus' point of view and brief flashbacks to his father's experiences, Skelton sets up an exciting mystery. Fleshed out with a variety of intriguing characters accompanied by peculiar creatures and situations, the story is very imaginative. All of this is placed within a very vivid and well-crafted historical setting. The creative plot, however, is poorly paced as most of the time is spent setting up the mystery and the exciting climax is stuffed in the last three chapters. While all the elements are tied up, the kinetic conclusion is untimely and unsatisfying because there is not enough time to debrief the reader and allow for processing the ending's betrayals. Despite its flaws, this creative adventure story will appeal to genre fans, but only if librarians take the time to guide them to it. Reviewer: Rachel Wadham
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Twelve-year-old orphan Cirrus Flux has spent his entire life in a foundling hospital with no knowledge of his parents. He spends his days in the nearby fields with his best friend and dreams of being selected for an apprenticeship. Meanwhile, Pandora, a girl from the same hospital, is sent to work for the frightening mesmerist Madame Orrery. She soon discovers that Madame is after Cirrus Flux who unknowingly possesses a mysterious substance known as the Breath of God which was left to him by his seaman father. Pandora sets off to warn Cirrus, and the book soon turns into a wild race across London with a variety of intriguing characters battling to get to Cirrus first. This fast-paced, action-packed tale (Delacorte, 2010) by Matthew Skelton is set in 1783. Jon Smith's narration does a nice job of reflecting that tempo. He also adeptly gives convincing and unique voices to the large cast of characters. Athough listeners will be left wondering what power the Breath of God possesses and why so many people wanted it, this breathless adventure will satisfy most listeners.—Deanna Romriell, Salt Lake City Public Library, UT
Matthew Skelton was born in the UK and spent most of his childhood in Canada. He has a PhD in English Literature from Oxford University. His debut novel was the New York Times bestseller Endymion Spring.
For as long as anyone could remember, the children had been drawn to the Gallows Tree. The black twisted oak stood on the outskirts of the city, in the corner of a field not far from the dirt road leading to the hills of Hampstead and Highgate, several miles to the north. The oak was clearly visible from the upper windows of the Foundling Hospital, and the children liked nothing more than to gather under the spell of moonlight and whisper strange stories about the tree.
“Do you see that shadow in the topmost branches?” said Jonas one night as the boys prepared for bed. “Do you know what it is?”
The boys pressed closer to the window, ghosting the glass with their breath. They nodded as a small round shape detached itself from the gloom.
“What is it, Jonas?”
Jonas’s voice was dark and menacing. “Why, ’tis only Aaron’s head,” he said. “The boy who used to sleep in that bed.”
He pointed to a narrow cot, one of many that filled the room, causing the little boy who now owned it to cry out in fear. Barely five years old, the new boy had just left his wet nurse in the country and wasn’t yet used to life in the boys’ dormitory. His eyes widened in fright and large tears splotched the front of his nightshirt.
Voices circled the room.
“What happened, Jonas?”
“Go on. Pray tell.”
Jonas stood for a moment in front of his captive audience and then, like the Reverend Fairweather at the start of one of his sermons, raised a forefinger in the air. “Promise not to repeat a word I say. Not to the Governor, the Reverend, nor the Lord above. Do you promise?”
“We promise, Jonas.”
The vow passed from mouth to mouth like a secret. Even Tobias, the new boy, managed to murmur his assent.
When at last the room was quiet, Jonas spoke. A thin, pale-faced boy, he had a shock of dark hair and rings of shadow, like bruises, round his eyes.
“Aaron took it upon himself to leave the hospital,” he said. “Tired of being a foundling, he was. Wanted to make his own way in the world.”
His gaze settled briefly on Bottle Top, who was stretched out on his bed, pretending not to listen, and then traveled back to the other boys, who were sitting, cross-legged, on the floor.
“But all he met was Billy Shrike.”
“Billy Shrike?” asked the new boy uneasily.
“A cutthroat,” one of the others whispered.
The older boys knew that Jonas was lying—Aaron had been apprenticed to a wigmaker in the city—but Jonas was the most senior boy among them, one of the few who could read and write, and his mind was a gruesome compendium of details he had scavenged from the handbills and ballad sheets visitors sometimes left behind in the stalls of the chapel. He could tell you everything, from the names of the criminals in Newgate Prison to the lives of those condemned to hang. Billy Shrike was his most fearsome creation yet: a footpad who liked to stalk the fields by night and snatch young foundlings from their beds.
Jonas swept the hair out of his eyes and leaned toward Tobias. “The felon was waiting for Aaron near Black Mary’s Hole,” he said, “and slit his throat with a smile . . . and a rusty knife.”
The boy who had inherited Aaron’s bed now streaked to the chamber pot in the corner.
Jonas’s voice pursued him. “Billy put his head in the Gallows Tree to keep an eye on you, Tobias. To warn us not to let you escape. For, if you do, he’ll hunt you down and—”
“Stop it! You’re frightening him!”
Heads turned to find Bottle Top standing on his bed. Dressed in a rumpled white nightshirt that came down to his knees, he looked like an enraged angel—except that his ankles were smeared with dirt and his wild flaxen hair shone messily in the moonlight. The air made a slight whistling noise as it passed between his teeth, which were chipped and cracked.
Jonas stepped toward him and, for a moment, the two boys glared at each other, face to face; then Jonas glanced at the new boy in the corner.
“Have we frightened you, Tobias?” he asked, with false kindness.
Tobias, crouched near the floor, looked from one boy to the other. Then he noticed the small gang slowly crowding round its leader and sniffed back his tears.
“No,” he mumbled. “I’m not frightened.”
“Bah!” exclaimed Bottle Top, throwing himself back on his bed and rolling over to face the wall, defeated. “The devil take you all!”
“Shhh! Someone’s coming,” said a voice from the opposite end of the room. Cirrus had pressed his ear closer to the door and was listening for any trace of movement. He backed away as he heard the first heavy footfall of the Governor on the stairs.