I had to dive into the children’s section of my library to get this one. I haven’t been in there for ages. There were short people around! And all the shelves are much shorter! Still, it was worth it. The Story of Cirrus Flux is an interesting attempt to set a children’s adventure novel in Georgian Britain. Matthew Skelton’s breadth of imagination makes for some entertaining characters and rambunctious action scenes. Nevertheless, the plotting is underwhelming and frayed at the edges, and I was left unsatisfied. While I think some people will get a lot from this book, you have to be more willing than I am to overlook its flaws.
Cirrus Flux is an orphan, and everyone seems to be after him. He doesn’t know why—indeed, he’s only clued in when another orphan, Pandora, lets him know that her new mistress is up to no good. So Cirrus has to go one the run, somewhat clumsily, with a sphere left as a keepsake at the orphanage by his father. This would theoretically lead someone to the Breath of God, a mystical force with unimaginable power.
If that seems a little vague to you, it is.
The novel takes a bit of time to get going. I like how different people keep showing up at the orphanage asking for Cirrus. Yet Skelton spends more time initially developing Pandora. That’s not a bad thing—I liked Pandora—except that the book is very explicitly called The Story of Cirrus Flux. Indeed, a cynical person might think the title is a disingenuous attempt to get boys interested in a book that has a girl as arguably a main protagonist. Because while Cirrus certainly sees some action at the end of the book, some of the most interesting and difficult experiences are Pandora’s.
In between these present-day moments, Skelton gives us flashbacks to when James Flux first discovers, and then later in life, retrieves, some of the Breath of God. Again, these are a great idea and could have been super interesting, but they don’t seem all that particularly well done. Skelton only gives us a vague understanding of what’s happening in these scenes: it’s not entirely clear who is running these expeditions or what the stakes are. I know that children’s novels aren’t going to have the same type or amount of depth and background exposition that an adult story might have, but it’s all just very vague. Who are the good guys and bad guys in all of this?
Fortunately, the book picks up in its final act. Cirrus finds an old friend of his, there is plenty of betrayal and danger, and Pandora has to help save the day. There is a chase sequence, some electrifying, and a phoenix-like bird. Skelton has a talent for evoking a sense of wonder, and I couldn’t help but imagine this book as a miniseries. I think it could be really successful, and the miniseries format would allow a little more time to explore things that Skelton elides here.
The Story of Cirrus Flux will probably delight its younger audience. I don’t regret reading it, but I do think my mindset is a little too critical for it. I might have thoroughly enjoyed this adventure novel as a kid, but I didn’t read it then, so I don’t have the fond memories of it now. Next time I hit up the children’s section probably won’t be until I finally get around to re-reading Anne of Green Gables.