The Casket of Time by Andri Snær Magnason. Translated by Björg Árnadóttir and Andrew Cauthery
Magnason, Andri Snær and Björg Árnadóttir, trans., and Andrew Cauthery, trans. The Casket of Time. New York: Yonder, Restless Books for Young Readers, 2019.
The Casket of Time, translated for young audiences from the Icelandic, is a sweeping, ethereal fantasy. The world around them is falling apart and humans are taking refuge in the latest technological escape, TimeBox, a weird and cringeworthy device that let’s humans hibernate until the world has sorted out its own problems. A young kid, whose family has partaken, finds that her TimeBox has opened too early, and she wakes up to a city where nature has run it’s course and reclaimed most spaces. The girl, Sigrun, finds a group of kids who have similarly awoken (escaped) and a wise storyteller/research, Grace. Grace weaves a tale within a tale and readers, along with the listening kids, are transported to an ancient kingdom of Pangea, where an eager and greedy king devices a similar system to protect his daughter Obsidiana from pain, sadness, and even age by trapping her in a magical silk casket that keeps out even time itself. Within the book, the line between Sigrun’s world and Pangea, and thus reality and fantasy becomes blurred. Much of the story takes place in Obsidiana’s world, where she has become the Eternal Princess, experiencing only one day a year out – sometimes not even that – with the King orchestrating an elaborate presentation at each opening so that she barely realizes what is happening. Pangea evokes a medieval, feudal system that has started to crumble as the people go hungry and the power of the King’s empire wanes for forgetting to respect the natural world. Obsidiana, with the help of a newfound beloved, and Sigrun – presumably centuries later – realize that meddling with time forsakes dire consequences and race to reverse the effects.
With magic, intrigue, and adventure, The Casket of Time reads like a cute new fairy tale, a sort of high fantasy (Pangea) within a low fantasy world (Sigrun’s). Left without the dominance of machinery and steampunk, the few basic elements of science fiction (time travel) are more ephemeral and so the novel feels much more fantascial than sci-fi. Sigrun’s world is presumably the same as ours, bordering on a post-apocalyptic, dystopia, yet different enough that readers can feel a sense of escape from this. Set without explicitly stating in a society like the author’s native Iceland we are to assume that none of the characters are coded as POC. The trope of purity associated with the femme protagonist’s “skin as white as snow” is growing old. There are elements of tragedy following adventure, just enough romance to further remind of classic fairy tales (Snow White / Sleeping Beauty), and most of all a deep warning to kids growing up in the Anthropocene. As in the fokltales, we are reminded to respect the unknown forces of nature that shape the world more than any human-invented economy.
Check out the book’s page from the publisher here.