Magnus Mills’s latest novel is set in a fantasy world, the Empire of Greater Fallowfields, where a ruling cabinet of eight men, who barely know each other, anxiously await the return of their absent emperor. Mills opens his story with a cabinet meeting, and one immediately notices that each character is named after a bird, lending the story an otherworldly quality that recalls Chaucer’s dream poem, The Parliament of Fowls. In addition, each man occupies a distinctive, colourful role such as ‘Astronomer Royal’ and ‘Comptroller of the Admiralty’. Fallowfields is a feudal society where every man is distinguished by his job title rather than his character.
Mills creates a world full of Swiftian comedy, as he pushes the rigidity of the social system to the limits of absurdity. Men have been parachuted into roles for which they are wholly unqualified: the Astronomer has a childlike ignorance of the skies; meanwhile the novel’s narrator, the