New York City has long been known for attracting visitors and immigrants from all over the world as well as being a centre for artistic creation. So is it any wonder that artists of all shapes and sizes have shown up there seeking out fame and fortune? However, I doubt that even the creators of the I Love NY campaign (the first people to implement that annoying design of using a heart instead of the word love and who in light of its subsequent ubiquitous usage should have committed ritual suicide ages ago) could have foreseen the folk who flocked to the Big Apple in absurdist fantasy novel The Good Fairies Of New York.
While the book was originally published quite some time ago in England both Soft Skull Press and Tor Books currently have copies of the title on the market, with the latter being a mass market paperback while the former is available in an inexpensive trade paper back format. If it seems like I'm being a little bit biased towards Soft Skull, it's only because they've taken the extraordinary step for an independent publisher of picking up all of Millar's back catalogue, and have been steadily republishing them on a regular basis for the last couple of years. It was largely due to the success of Good Fairies when it was originally published back in 2006 that inspired them to be so unusually generous for a publisher.
I had read (and reviewed) Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl when it was first released, but had missed out on Good Fairies. Having enjoyed others of his recently released backlist (Ruby And The Stone Age Diet and Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation) it became imperative that I read Good Fairies. After all, as Neil Gaiman so accurately puts it in his introduction : "It has a war in it and a most unusual production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream and Johnny Thunders' New York Dolls guitar solos. What more could anyone desire from a book?" What indeed? In fact not only do his guitar solos play a key role in the book, the ghost of Thunders himself wanders through on a quest - he is searching for his lost 1958 Gibson Tiger Top electric guitar which was stolen from him after a gig at CBGBS. According to what he tells fellow former and deceased member of the New York Dolls Billy Murcia, as they are hanging out in Heaven, he had put it down on a bar stool, turned away for a minute and when he looked again it was gone.
Thunder's quest however, no matter how urgent it might be to him (there's a definite lack of gritty rock and roll in Heaven) is merely a side show to the greater tales at hand - namely the recounting of the exile of two Scottish Thistle fairies, Morag MacPherson and Heather MacKintosh, and how they come to the aid of two of New York City's rather more typical inhabitants. Dinnie MacKintosh and Kerry live across the street from each other, but the gulf that divides their characters is as deep as the Grand Canyon and as wide as the Pacific Ocean.
For while Kerry is a graceful beauty full of compassion and love for almost all her fellow human beings, (the sole exception being Cal her ex-boyfriend who dumped her when he found out she had a colostomy bag and completely reneged on his promise to teach her Johnny Thunder's guitar solos from his days with the New York Dolls, thus she is determined to wreck horrible vengeance on him in some form or another) Dinnie is not only the city's worst fiddle player, he's overweight, a slob, a bigot, and generally all around mean person.
So when Heather and Morag flutter through his apartment window stoned and drunk on too many magic mushrooms and too much single malt whisky he's not exactly ecstatic to see them. Nor is he much mollified by Heather's assurances that fairy vomit smells sweet to humans after she spews on his arm and carpet, and begins to heap abuse on their heads and demand they leave, even though both Morag and Heather tell him that humans in Scotland would be thrilled to be visited by fairies.
He eventually gets half his wish when the two fairies discover a) that he is a MacKintosh like Heather and b) how bad a fiddle player Dinnie is. All of which leads to Morag making derogatory remarks about MacKintosh fiddle playing in general, and the two fairies having a glorious row ending only when Morag flutters out the window and Heather vowing she can teach even a clod like Dinnie to play better than any MacPherson.
The window Morag flutters into across the street from Dinnie's is of course Kerry's, and they immediately strike up a friendship. Morag vows to not only help Kerry learn all of Johnny Thunders' leads from his days as a New York Doll, but to help her exact vengeance upon the hated Cal by assisting Kerry in winning the East Fourth Street's Community Arts Association Prize. Cal's entry is an amateur production of A Midsummer's Night Dream, while Kerry is attempting to assemble the exceedingly rare and beautiful Celtic Flower Alphabet, in which each of the original symbols of the Celtic alphabet are represented by a different flower.
What neither human are aware of initially is how the two eighteen inch high fairies came to be in New York City. They'd been chased out of Scotland for desecrating one of the three great Fairy Relics, The MacLeod Banner. Not only had they cut two pieces out of it to use as blankets, adding insult to injury, they subsequently blew their noses in them. While fleeing Scotland they met up with three fairies from Ireland, Maeve, Padraig, and Brannoc who were helping the son and daughter of the King of the Cornish fairies, Tulip and Petal, to escape their father's rule. Somewhere in transit the seven had stumbled upon a field of magic mushrooms, indulged heavily, ended up on a cargo flight to New York City and found themselves hung over and coming down on the back of a transport truck wending through the streets of the city.
While Morag and Heather were settling in with their new human companions the other five exiles were living in the relative serenity of Central Park. While they had managed to make the acquaintance of some friendly squirrels and make friends with local black fairies from Harlem, it was soon revealed that even emigration to the New World wasn't far enough to keep them safe from their father as he decided to send his entire army after them.
Meanwhile things aren't going so well for the other exiles as neither of their plans to help their human friends are working out so well. Even Morag's befriending the ghost of Johnny Thunders doesn't alleviate the disaster of having the centrepiece of Kerry's flower alphabet, a rare triple bloomed Welsh poppy, go missing. When Heather manages to piss off both the Italian fairies - she's been robbing the wrong banks - and the Chinese fairies, chaos ensues and leads to the first race riot between fairies in the history of New York City.
Martin Millar has penned a spectacular and gloriously wild ride of a book which manages to be both side splitting and touching at the same time. While it might seem like there are far too many threads of story lines for a reader to ever keep straight, his unique style of writing in short, sharp bursts gives us constant updates as to everyone's condition and the overall picture gradually takes shape in front of us.
Like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle, as a little more of each segment is revealed, the whole becomes clearer as well. The characters come into focus and the story takes on a life of its own as we delve deeper into their lives. As we are swept up into the current of events we can't help but give whoops of enjoyment as we hit the downward spirals, and think carefully over what is being said during the introspective ascents that precede them.
So wrap your clan kilt around your hips, strap on your claymore, and pick up your fiddle and be prepared for anything in this bizarre mix of traditional Scottish fairies and New York Punk. You might just find your preconceived notions of both stood on their heads and you'll be a lot happier for it. Fantasy writing needs to be shaken out of its stolid reverie and Mllar pushes and pulls it into dancing to something a little more daring than usual and its a lot better for it. You've heard of cyberpunk, well welcome to the world of faepunk, it can get bit wild and weird at times, but its a breath of fresh air that will revive even the most jaded of readers.
(Originally posted March 2010)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.