Friday 30 November 2012

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning)

The Fire Chronicle: The Books of Beginning 2 (Books of Beginning) by John Stephens (Doubleday)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780857530875
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781446452325
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the second title in John Stephen’s fantasy trilogy, The Books of Beginning. I have not read the first, but with its tempting title, The Emerald Atlas, and after now having read its sequel, The Fire Chronicle, my imagination is primed to go back to the beginning.

That said, for the first-time reader, Stephens has done a great job of weaving you into the story from the first pages, ‘the scream … the mist … burning yellow eyes’ … a boy tucked tight beneath the director’s desk at the orphanage and the last haunting words, ‘Where are the children?’

And so, we are whisked into the world of fifteen-year-old Kate and her younger siblings, Michael and Emma.

The three children have spent years in a string of miserable orphanages, ‘one next to a sewerage treatment plant,’ and The Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans where, ‘the water was brown and chunky.’ The children’s knowledge of their parents teeters at the edge of their existence, but there is magic afoot as we learn the existence of three books that have the ‘power to alter the very nature of existence, to reshape the world.’

We are given glimpses of the powerful sorcerer, the Dire Magnus, whose ‘power waxes and wanes … since the Books were created.’ His goal is to find the children who will bring the books together and fulfil the prophecy.

Kate, through the magic of the time-travel book (The Emerald Atlas) that she is guardian for, is separated from Michael and Emma. She is kidnapped into an Artful Dodger kind of world in New York in 1889. It’s New Years Eve and moments before The Separation, when the magic world that has been around forever disappears into the human world.

The chapters alternate between Kate’s journey and that of Michael and Emma, who are on the hunt for The Fire Chronicle. Michael is its chosen guardian, but he has to find the book, which is embedded in the magma chamber of an Antarctic volcano.

The fears and strengths of the children ebb and flow through their stories as they learn independence and survival through the use of their imaginations. Michael often quotes from his father’s last gift, The Dwarf Omnibus. ‘A great leader lives not in his heart, but in his head.’

This book makes thrilling reading and at times, I felt the magic pens of Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lois Lowry and L. Frank Baum, such is the fine writing of the author and the imaginative adventures of the children.

American author, John Stephens, comes well equipped to writing for the YA reader of 11 and up, as he was the executive producer of Gossip Girl and a writer for Gilmore Girls and The O.C.

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