Once an unassuming Birmingham-born bus driver, now a lauded Booker Prize-nominated author, it is perhaps small wonder that Magnus Mills writes fairy tales.
A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In, the Englishman's latest novel, is set in the crumbling Empire of Greater Fallowfields, a commonwealth based on naval and financial supremacy, royal edicts and a rigid class structure. But when the kingdom's ruler disappears and interlopers start arriving from the neighbouring and predatory City of Scoffers, all that Greater Fallowfields once understood about itself unravels. Instead of being a master civilisation, it is revealed as merely "one branch of a vast structure".
The book's narrator, the Principal Composer of the Imperial Court - appointed by grace and favour even though he neither reads nor understands music - is both hapless and hopeless to prevent the kingdom's eventual subjugation to the Scoffers. In the end, what is most interesting about this charming tale is that Mills manages to touch on many of the pertinent issues of our day - crumbling currencies, debt crises, bankrupt states and leaderless lands - in his fantastic story.