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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits - Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson

Read for the 2010 YA Reading Challenge.

I’ve had this book on my radar since 2004, when I saw Robin McKinley speak at my local Borders after her novel Sunshine was published. At the time, she’d mentioned that her husband had finished his contributions to their book about fire, but her story ideas kept having the nasty habit of blowing up into full blown novels. Sunshine was one of those ideas, and her next novel, Chalice, could very well be one as well, as it features a fire priest. Apparently, she finally managed to keep a few stories short, as Fire finally came out late last year.

This book features five stories, three from Dickinson, two from McKinley. If that seems lopsided in number, the final story in the book, which is McKinley’s, is a novella taking up a full third of the book.

I liked Dickinson’s stories, but McKinley is definitely my favored author in this partnership. My favorite story of Dickinson’s was “Phoenix”, a story of the phoenix being found in England, and how that effects the lives of the people touched by this mythical bird.

“Hellhound” is the shorter of McKinley’s stories. It’s set on a horse farm, where Miri has turned eighteen, and has become a full partner in the family business. She’s also finally able to add her own selection to the family menagerie, and promptly heads off to the pound to adopt a dog. What she finds is a curious looking dog with red eyes. Despite how initially scary he looks, she brings him home and names him Flame. Flame manages to make himself very useful by saving the life of Miri’s brother, and the story ends with what could be the beginning of many more stories.

“First Flight” is the longest story in the book. It’s the story of Ern, the third, runty son in his family, who by tradition should be apprenticed to a wizard, but doesn’t believe he’s capable of something so grand. His oldest brother, Dag, is a cadet at the dragon rider’s academy, and Ern is drawn into events there that prove his abilities to everyone, but most importantly, to himself. This story made me forgive everything that annoyed me about McKinley’s novel Dragonhaven. I wish this one had ended up as a full novel instead. The cast of characters is enchanting, and I enjoyed Ern’s journey to adulthood much more than Jake’s. I’ll now put Dragonhaven behind me as a fluke in an otherwise excellent body of work. I know McKinley doesn’t often do sequels, but I’d be happy to see one of this story.

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