Matthew Skelton, ’93 BA, ’95 MA
Thank you, Matthew Skelton, for playing hooky from your PhD in book history to read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. If not for this late-night escape, Skelton may never have been inspired to put pen to paper, and readers would not have been graced with The Story of Cirrus Flux.
The backdrop for this young adult fantasy novel is 18th-century London, during the Age of Enlightenment, where scientists dabbled in mesmerism and electricity experiments, but in Skelton’s world there’s room for magical wonders such as fire-winged birds and the Breath of God, an ethereal substance with mysterious powers.
Members of the Guild of Empirical Science believe orphan boy Cirrus Flux possesses this wondrous element and will stop at nothing to wrest it from him. A fellow orphan, Pandora, catches wind of the Guild’s plot and risks her life to save Cirrus. He flees to London’s streets to find sanctuary but learns the Guild has a long reach. Cirrus must uncover the secret of the Breath of God — which may also hold the key to his parentage — before the Guild nabs him.
While Pullman’s influences on The Story of Cirrus Flux are evident from the juxtaposition of science and magic as well as the parallel between the Breath of God and the dust particles in His Dark Materials, Skelton excels on his own merits with a dual storyline that fleshes out his world and Cirrus’ character.
He’s an adept storyteller who propels the story forward with thrilling adventure sequences and seamlessly weaves authentic historical elements into the main action. One of the novel’s memorable moments is a hanging boy demonstration, an allusion to Stephen Gray’s experiment involving static electricity and a suspended boy.
The historic and literary references may flit past younger readers, but the world Skelton’s characters inhabit will enthral anyone who enjoys fantasy novels.
His first book, Endymion Spring, showcased a fledgling writer’s emerging talent. The Story of Cirrus Flux proves Matthew Skelton has spread his wings and taken flight. Warning: this fast-paced novel may cause more than a few young readers to play hooky from their studies.
Marty Chan, ’90 BA, is the author of several plays and books for young readers, including, most recently, The Mystery of the Mad Science Teacher.