Airy Nothing

Young Adult - Coming of Age
253 Pages
Reviewed on 02/20/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Pikasho Deka for Readers' Favorite

Airy Nothing by Clarissa Pattern is a coming-of-age drama novel set in the Elizabethan era. Wearing his sister's dress, John flees from his home in the countryside, seeking a better life in the magical city of London. But he soon discovers that London isn't exactly how he imagined it. After a rambunctious petty thief named Black Jack takes him under his wing, John sees the actual state of the city, filled with dirty streets, hanged bodies, and dangerous men. However, a chance visit to William Shakespeare's Globe theatre makes John discover his true calling. While Jack helps him become an apprentice to William's brother Master Edmund, an actor, a ruthless crook hunts for them in the streets. Will John and Jack's friendship outlast the tumultuous events?

Laced with heartbreak, humor, and a healthy dose of drama, Airy Nothing is an absolute delight. Clarissa Pattern's prose captures the essence of the Elizabethan era perfectly, with a combination of wit and gravity layering each sentence. The characters are colorful and vibrant, with distinct personalities that pop out of the pages. Their inner conflicts and motives are well-defined, making them easy to relate to. John and Jack's relationship provides the narrative thrust to the story. Their contrasting personas and backgrounds create plenty of dramatic moments, and each scene with the two together is a joy to read. As protagonists, they are immensely likable, and you'll be hard-pressed not to root for them. I thoroughly enjoyed Airy Nothing. Recommended to fans of coming age stories and period dramas alike.

Annabel Harz

Clarissa Pattern’s Airy Nothing is spellbinding. From the opening paragraph the reader understands that the protagonist is unusual: interest piques as he runs in fear, wearing girl’s clothes and helped by his hobgoblin protector. John’s delightful hobgoblin guides him to recognise danger, prompting John to question, “Should you listen to people’s words or trust how safe you felt?”. The ability to transport into the safe and kind faerie world proves critical to the naïve country boy’s navigation of the dark, dirty city John finds himself in: plague-ridden Victorian London with its colourful characters scratching to survive, where he is “just one more limb of the” overwhelming “vast, wounded animal” that constitutes the city. The charmed ones who see the faerie folk also see people in their true forms. In gothic horror style, the faerie-world demons are truly frightening.
Black Jack, the streetwise urchin who takes John under his wing, initially has the intention to exploit the innocent newcomer. The bond that builds between the two is extraordinary, hovering in the unspoken space between platonic and romantic relationship. As Black Jack’s motivation to keep John around changes, heartache is foreshadowed: what these two remarkable people gift each other ultimately weaves unbreakable synergy. The difficulty of living on the streets is eased by the boys’ acceptance into the troupe of William Shakespeare’s new Globe Theatre. Black Jack urges John, “If you want to be something, be it, do not fret over what others are thinking”. The magic continues to layer as the players add yet another element of fantasy.

Through John being “not a Fair Maiden, but a badly made boy called John with no friends in the world apart from a faerie only [he] can see”, Pattern deftly integrates gender fluidity into a previous era. Participants in contemporary conversations regarding LGBTIQ+ issues will relate to the characters’ sensitively-portrayed reactions and emotions. The settings depicted through eloquent prose are visceral. The historically-accurate backdrop of London streets and the theatre, overlayed by the faerie world and other magical elements, are illuminated through evocative descriptions. If this story were filmed the mise en scéne would be rich with the detail woven into it, the opulent descriptions that stimulate the imagination. Each chapter begins with a Shakespearean quote which deftly relate to the plot. Endnotes explain Pattern’s authorial decisions in mirroring or subverting the playwright’s original meanings to match the characters and the plot. She reveals, “I love this [airy nothings] quote and … take it to display how magical the world actually is, how love and poetry, (and in John’s case some seriously mad visions), can transform the ordinary things that most people don’t even notice into things of terror and beauty.” Airy Nothing is remarkable. Lovers of Shakespeare, along with readers of fantasy and historical fiction, will all delight in this novel. Readers may well find that, like John, they realise “deep in [their] soul[s] that everything [they] thought [they] knew was, in the end, just airy nothings”. Be prepared to be transported.

Michael Froilan

This stunning novel captivates you from the jump!

Taking place in the Elizabethan era, Airy Nothing is a dazzling tale about a runaway village boy who journeys to a promised land known as "London."

If I'm being honest, it's a distinctive book genre from what I usually read, but man, I'm sure glad I found this! I love how every spirited page is ingeniously knitted with staggering suspense, grit & light-heartedness. Each chapter beams with picturesque imagery. I couldn't help but feel powerless while soaking in all the enticing lines, pulling me into wondrous and sensual scenes. I even found countless notable quotes from it that I'm still chewing over. Take, for example, "I think we truly exist in the places other people can't see, such as in the best memories in our heads, or the dreams in our heart." –A bite of many gems that await your eyes to dig in.

Exciting and illuminating to the very end, everyone who reads this will have no choice but to absorb the substantial message(s) it bears regarding love, loyalty & life. There's no doubt this endearing book distinctively carries more weight than you can imagine. Simply put, it goes beyond its intriguingly mystical title!
I positively recommend this book.

T.C. Anderson

***This review is part of a review exchange coordinated with the author. Thank you to Clarissa Pattern and tRaum Books for the review copy!***

An ethereal love story set in the throes of a not-so-ethereal Shakespearean London, Airy Nothing by Clarissa Pattern is a gorgeous dive into the life of John, who seeks shelter in the fantasies he has of London to escape an unforgiving home life. With his intuitive hobgoblin by his side to serve as conscience and guide, the wee youth wades into the grime and travesties of the city, only to be taken under the wing of the all-too-knowledgeable (and talkative) pickpocket Black Jack, whom he meets through a life-changing kiss. John's life escalates into a rollercoaster of self-discovery, adventure, and emotion as the pair attempt to find home in a place where every stage houses a dream and every dark corner hides a threat.

Once I had the time to sit down with this tale, I couldn't put it down. Pattern has a way of writing that cleverly weaves Shakespearean story and lore into accessible dialogue and action, so readers reluctant to approach the tale for fear of verse they may not understand need not worry. (Pattern even includes an appendix at the end explaining the origin of the used verses and elaborating on their significance in Airy Nothing.) The story is extremely powerful and moving – you can't help but feel for John as he struggles for acceptance in a world he's been taught only sees black and white, as well as for Jack, whose only known what it means to survive instead of live...until he meets John.

A fantastic tale that deals with love, survival, trauma, and identity in captivating and unusual ways, Airy Nothing is a journey worth taking.

Joel S

This is such a delight to read! An unconventional take on Shakespearian worlds and characters. I found it a bit of work to get into, but once fully immersed in the world and all its inhabitants, I unearthed nonstop joy until the very last page, and well after! Kudos to the author for creating a very unique piece. Terrific!