I first listened to Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer on audio a few years ago and thought it was a great story and a brilliant twist on a familiar idea. While reading and writing reviews for my Peter Pan (and related books) week I was reminded of this great story and pulled it off the shelf - and listened to it again. LJ Ganser, the best ever narrator of books without a British accent, reads Clemency Pogue as well as the spectacular Sisters Grimm series. JT Petty and Michael Buckly both share a wry sense of humor and are skilled at creating thoughtful, brave, girl characters as well as the wicked and wickedly funny fairy tale creations who sometimes torment and sometimes help them. Interestingly enough, Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer was first published in May of 2005, a mere two months before Daphne and Sabrina Grimm hit the bookshelves!
The prologue of Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer begins with a very funny treatise on the nature of good, bad and exceptions to the rule. Newborn mammals are invariably all good. "Bees, however, are all bad. If you are a bee sympathizer and find yourself insulted by the above remark, you can petition for the refund of the cost of this book." Options go on from there, ending with the author of the book reporting you to the authorities as a "bee sympathizer, obviously insane, and in need of either treatment or imprisonment before you can do yourself or others harm." As the prologue, and even the title of the book suggests, there is some serious silliness going on. And not the obtuse, adult oriented, tongue-in-cheek humor of Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events, but something kids will laugh out loud at, when they get it, and they will in the end. And, speaking of the end, the narrator finishes the epilogue eating his words and offering bee sympathizers a full refund.
"Clemency Pogue was child who listened to the stories she was told. It was a quality that saved her life once and started her on a great adventure." So begins the first chapter of the book. Clem lives an idyllic life on the edge of the forest which she wanders freely by day. At night, she returns to her family's cozy cottage to a comforting meal, a delicious dessert and a plentitude of stories, some old, some new, told by her adoring parents. When Mr Pogue tells the story of JM Barrie's Peter Pan, specifically the part when Peter informs Wendy that she has "disbelieved" Tinkerbell to death, Clem is listening, and this saves her life more than once.
The very next day as she is searching for sassafras saplings to use in her sassafras tea, wearing her homemade burlap pants that are a point of pride for Clem, she finds herself being stung by a flying insect. When she cannot swat or chase the bug away, she runs. As she is about to be stung on the tip of her nose, Clem gets a good look at the bug and realizes she is looking at a very tiny fairy, that has a "sweet-potato pallor, its skin the vibrant orange of cooked yams. From its back, four dragonfly wings whirred and buzzed like water spattering on a hot griddle," and is holding a with a searing orange tip. When the fairy pursues her over the edge of a cliff, the massive roots of the trees keeping Clem from falling to her death, she knows the fairy will not stop until she is dead. She remembers the story of Peter Pan and Wendy and says, out loud, "I don't believe in fairies." She has to say it seven times before the fairy falls over dead.
As she clambers back to to the top of the of the cliff she is met with a geyser of dirt from which emerges a hobgoblin. I would love to list every marvelous detail Petty's description of this hilarious, ugly but lovable creature, but I think I am in danger of transcribing the entire book. Every inventive, creative, uproarious detail leads to another and another. I'll just tell you this, though, since I thought it was pretty unique, the hobgoblin has two sets of ears, one of pig's ears and one of rabbits, and a very mocking, slightly jumbled, sardonic manner of speaking. He arrives, presumably, to let Clem know she has killed seven fairies. Among them are the Fairy of Noninvasive Surgery who is about to retrieve a pea that a little girl in bleakest Runssia has stupidly shoved into her ear canal, a Fire Fairy who keeps re-lighting the candles on a little girl's birthday cake, thus denying her the wish she is due and the Fairy of Random Prodding who is tormenting a herd of cows in Texas. Distraught over the destruction she has wrought, Clem asks if there is any way she can fix things and remembers Wendy's solution. She manages, much to the despair of the herd of cows, to bring the Fairy of Random Prodding back to life before the hobgoblin stops her, telling her that she has no control over which fairies she returns to life and, if she re-animates the Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism she will hunt Clem down in a matter of minutes and sting her to death for sure.
After giving Clem a brief lecture on the power (and impossibility) of knowing a fairy's name, the hobgoblin turns, about to head for Java. He says his goodbyes and compliments Clem on her stylish burlap pants, noting that he has some "potato friends who will wear nothing less." She thanks him in turn and replies, "That's true. But they chafe me so." This causes the hobgoblin to stop in his tracks. He falls instantly under Clem's power. It turns out his name is Chaphesmeeso. From that point on, like it or not, the two are a team. With a combination of innocent, good intentions, a sharp mind and the speedy mode of travel and knowledge of the fairy world that Chaphesmeeso offers, the two travel all over the world trying to right wrongs, or at least remove peas from ears. In the process, Clem finds out some interesting information about fairies, has very funny run-in with a spoiled, lonely boy, a beloved dog, one too many cups of tea and a folding sofa bed as well as a climactic battle on the frozen steppes of Russia with the Fairy of Frequent and Painful Pointless Antagonism.
This book was so innovative, so entertaining, I just wish it was longer! However, I definitely appreciate JT Petty's skill at writing a concise, entertaining, hilarious story that can be read over the course of a few bedtimes. And, fortunately for me (and you) there are two other books that follow the exploits of Clem and Chaphesmeeso!
Don't miss Clemency Pogue and the Hobgoblin Proxy and Clemency Pogue and the Scrivener of Bees (review to follow...)