Kids fantasize about being adults, or at least they fantasize about having the freedom and power that adults seem to have. That’s why so much of media made for children features kids doing adult things: solving mysteries, fighting monsters, having adventures, thwarting adults. Oftentimes kids have the clarity and imagination to see the supernatural for what it is, while their parents are too stuffy and boring to see what’s in front of their eyes. In these stories, kids get to be the heroes by playing the part of adults.
Blindsprings is not that kind of story.
Princess Tamaura Bernice Rhodizia Adelaide Llyn has lived in a blindsprings – a pocket in reality where spirits dwell – for almost 300 years. There she works every day to fulfill her contract with the spirits, a bargain struck by her mother that preserves the life of her comatose sister and keeps her from aging. Though she lives closely with the spirits, she is wholly without human company until an adventurous young boy named Harris finds his way into the blindsprings and befriends her.
Harris returns ten years later with an arsenal of anti-spirit Academist magic and a half-baked plan to save Tamaura from her captors. His kidnapping her breaks her contract, leaving her sister’s fate in question, but a spirit finds the lost princess and offers her a new deal: find and release the caged spirits in the city of Kirkhall, which Tamaura’s naturally-magical Orphic family once ruled before the Academist coup that wiped out the rest of the Llyn bloodline.
If that’s a lot to take in, its equally overwhelming to Tammy. Using Orphic magic to escape from Harris, she makes it to Kirkhall only to be stunned by the technological advancements of the last three centuries. Luckily for her, she is saved from being hit by a car by two Orphic schoolkids about her age (give or take 300 years), Imogen and Street, who bring her to meet the city’s Orphic freedom fighters, the Wayfarers.
It’s a rich, complex story that is hard to do justice to in a few paragraphs. It’s a story about oppression, about monarchy versus fascism versus maybe something else. It’s about the balance of nature and technological progress. Most of all, however, it’s about personal agency, and the ways people can be stripped of it.
Let me reiterate: this isn’t a story about plucky kids having adventures under their parents’ noses. It’s about kids having no choice but to act out the will of powers greater than them, whether those be ancient, amoral spirits, or worse, human adults.
The first chapter portrays Tammy as content with her bargain, and Harris as the villain who breaks it, but later chapters delve more into the ugly truth lying under the surface. Tammy gave up three lifetimes in service to the spirits, who held her sister as collateral; though Harris’s “rescue” was non-consensual, so too were her “duties”, and so too is her new “quest” to save Kirkhall’s spirits.
When Tammy’s actions in Kirkhall raise too much attention, city leaders bring in Master Lumens and his Gravers. While most Orphic children are branded with disfiguring seals that prevent them from using magic, living weapons Rhiannon and Tristan are children whose seals Academize their powers – and bind them to an adult handler. Lumens may be the truest and worst villain that Blindsprings has, even more than Imogen’s abusive politician father. Torn from their parents, the Graver siblings have only Master Lumens’s training and twisted agenda to raise them, and the trauma of this is evident in Tristan’s helplessness and Rhiannon’s manic violence.
Rhiannon is a clear foil for Tammy; both are motivated by the protection of a sibling, both wield terrifying magical powers, and both venerate the uncaring entities that use them as tools, a sort of Stockholm syndrome multiplied by the absence of parental figures in their lives. While Rhiannon’s task is to capture Tammy to be Lumens’s newest Graver, Tammy wants to rescue Rhiannon and her brother from the Academist yoke – much to the displeasure of the spirits who hold her in contract.
There’s a war coming, and while it’s not yet clear which side each character will be on, it’s certain that children will be the ones on the front lines.
But for all the horrors that they experience (or commit), the children of Blindsprings are still just that – children. A less skilled author could easily use these set pieces to tell a dark and gritty story of lost innocence, but Fedoruk never does, instead giving us moments of childlike trust and wonder and childish jealousy and bickering in between the scenes of abuse and mortal peril – and sometimes even during them. These kids are in over their heads, but they’re still swimming, and that makes the tone of the story hopeful, not grim.