A while back I was looking for authors similar to Neil Gaiman, whose work I have come to appreciate and Martin Millar’s name popped on on separate occasions. I spotted his book The Good Fairies of New York the last time I was in a bookstore and picked it up. It is prefaced with a note from Gaiman himself, praising the book (and others by Millar) so I expected it to be good.
Off the bat, I thought it looked a bit short. Indeed, it’s a very fast read and I could have read it in only a sitting or two if I weren’t pacing myself and reading other books at the same time. The chapters are short and, admittedly, do not always follow logical scene changing set up (with some sort of recognizable division between scene changes). Nevertheless, the book moves at a quick pace from the beginning when we are introduced to two renegade Scottish fairies who have bumbled into modern day New York City after a night of too much alcohol all the way to the end when the pair are finally able to rectify their mistakes (which are mostly made with good intentions anyway).
Millar’s story follows the fairies, Heather and Morag, as their on again, off again friendship turns off and they each befriend humans Dinnie and Kerry, respectively, while running from their past (other very angry fairies). Dinnie isn’t exactly catch of the day and Kerry’s worsening condition (due to Crohn’s disease) plagues her daily, yet she remains appealing to friends, suitors and fairies alike. The pair of fairies prove themselves skilled at upsetting both fairies and humans and it isn’t long before Heather and Morag enrage NYC’s resident fairies, encourage turf wars and become entangled with crazy homeless folk as they attempt to perform good deeds for their human friends.
Although the story centers around the two main fairies and their two human companions, all of the other fairies and humans are interesting, especially a tramp named Magenta who believes she is a legendary Greek hero and sees the other occupants of New York City (humans and fairies) as historical characters.
Music plays a large role throughout the story from Irish and Scottish tunes played on fiddles to iconic alternative and punk bands from the 80s. The reader does not have to be familiar with either, however, to enjoy this book or appreciate the personality it lends.
The Good Fairies of New York lacks some of the complexities of writing and grammar that Gaiman’s work usually has. Except for sexual content, it would be suitable for young adults (and at the rate kids are growing up these days, maybe that’s barely an exception). Millar’s fairies are quire liberal with their love of sex (including homosexual and incest) and alcohol which may not make this novel family friendly but it is based on friendship, good intentions and clan ties. Fans of European history will find that it is loosely historically based; although it’s not historical fiction. Millar also discusses the declining condition of a human character, Kerry, due to Chrohn’s disease in appropriate but not excruciating detail. If you are easily nauseated, this might not be the book for you.
American readers will quickly come to understand that Martin Millar is not American and certain grammatical and word usage oddities stood out to me when reading. For a book that is set in New York City, it would be nice if an editor had taken notice. On top of that, I notice a handful of errors which would easily have been caught by an editor. No doubt there were more but I missed them as the editors clearly have. Some of the reviews on Amazon attribute this to the small publisher behind which may very well be the case. Still, The Good Fairies of New York has become well known and well printed enough that someone ought to take the time to give it another look.
I also found the ending to be just a bit of a let down. Millar kind of assures us everything will be okay without showing us and I appreciate the idea but would have better appreciated something more solid. Still, The Good Fairies of New York is an entertaining read – quick and generally lighthearted enough to make it a book to have during travel or to read while waiting. It doesn’t break the reader’s heart or lift one’s soul but it’s definitely worth picking up and reading a time or two (or more).