Obsidian Mirror

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
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Complex time travel page-turner starts sci-fi trilogy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There are some details about life in Victorian London. And the idea of time travel presents all kinds of brain-teasing questions, such as: What if there are two of you in one time period? Also, the book opens with teens putting on Hamlet.

Positive Messages

Dealing with loss (and not accepting it) is central to what drives the characters. And for everyone who ever owns the mirror, the book shows how ambitions can turn to all-consuming obsessions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake starts out angry and impulsive as he struggles to cope with loss and blame Venn. Venn is notoriously short-tempered and ambitious, traits that feed into his obsession with the time-traveling mirror. He and Jake develop a better relationship when forced to work together. Sarah is the most selfless character in the book, willing to sacrifice herself for what's right.


Jake stabs and wounds a fellow student. Guns are fired, Sarah is chased and bitten by a wolf that continues to pursue her, Jake is chased by robbers. Much talk about the death of Venn's wife from a car accident and the disappearance of Jake's father. Sarah's parents are held captive, and Gideon recalls being taken away from his parents when he was young.


You'll learn all the Victorian slang for prostitute from a young street urchin, with just a mention that robbers are with them and "one had his arm around a frowsty-looking woman in a torn red skirt and not much else."


Lots of "hell" and a few instances of "bloody hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Two visits to an opium den (visitors don't partake). Some whiskey drinking and cigar smoking by adults.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Obsidian Mirror is the start of a new time-travel series by Catherine Fisher, the popular author of the Incarceron series. As in Incarceron, the themes here are complex (nothing more mind-bending than the idea of time travel), but the violence is milder. There are mentions of a dystopian world in the future, but most of the action takes place in the present day, where a wolf attacks and there are gunshots and a stabbing. A trip back to Victorian London brings about a mention of prostitutes and a walk through an opium den. At the center of the story, both teen Jake and his godfather Venn deal with the loss of loved ones and will use any dangerous means to get them back. The strongest language is  "hell."

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What's the story?

Jake can't take a minute more of boarding school. He knows his father has been murdered and that his best friend and godfather Oberon Venn is to blame. Injuring a student gets him gratefully expelled and on a plane back to England to confront the recluse Venn, unfortunately with his teacher Mr. Wharton as chaperone. When Jake and Wharton arrive at the remote and ancient Wintercombe Abbey, Wharton is reluctant to leave Jake there. Venn is short-tempered and distant and has taken in a teen girl named Sarah, who claims to have escaped a mental institution. And hidden in a locked room: the Obsidian Mirror, Venn's obsession. Jake's father is lost in time thanks to the mirror, an artifact of ominous origins Venn is desperately trying to use to get his deceased wife back. And Sarah has agreed to risk her life to help. She's as desperate as Venn is to get close to the mirror -- for her own mysterious reasons.

Is it any good?

Here's a time-twisting tale without a minute wasted on long exposition. OBSIDIAN MIRROR not only keeps readers guessing about just about everything (Who's Sarah really? And Piers? Why do you need a special bracelet to enter the mirror? How is that journal answering Sarah? How did Jake get a letter from his dad?), it also weaves together such curious elements that, at first, you think there's no way they'll ever meld into one story. But they do. Eventually. And sometimes at a much deeper level: What is the nature of time, really? What if it didn't really exist, like in the land of Lady Summer?

If those questions are beyond readers, it's no matter. The story moves much faster than you can chew over it, through time, through another world, and through the characters' revealed deep, dark secrets. Readers are swept back and forth, forward and back, every few pages. Then, Obsidian Mirror lets you close the book and ponder exactly where it's taken you on your own time.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about time travel. How many "what ifs" did you have in your head while reading the book? Would you hop in the mirror with no knowledge of where you could end up?

  • Why does Gideon want to escape Lady Summer? What does he tell Sarah he's missing by living in a paradise? Would you choose Gideon's world or Jake's? What about Gideon's world or Sarah's?

  • What do you know about Victorian London? Where can you find out more? Jake is surprised by the dirt and smell. When did the modern city sewer system come about?

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