08 October 2012
Review: The Fire Chronicle
The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Putting aside Harry Potter, the landscape of children's fantasy is...strange. You have your classics (Redwall, various magical series from Lloyd Alexander, Fablehaven, etc), plenty of modern attempts to replicate Harry Potter or Tolkien (Eragon, anyone?). The modern stuff in particular repeatedly leaves me cold, though. Especially when you're looking for fantasy books with appeal to all genders, since most of the middle grade fiction that's not about sports or various wimpy/nerdy children is geared, intentionally or otherwise, toward girls, you really end up wanting something to fill that gap.
The Books of Beginning are absolutely some of the best middle grade fantasy written in the last decade, and not nearly enough people know it.
The Emerald Atlas is a book I got to read an advance of a few years ago, and it blew my mind. A fully-formed setting, a book that didn't mind borrowing from existing tropes while finding its own voice, kids who a) acted like kids and b) were allowed to grow into their own during the course of the book. Actions had consequences for everyone involved, and it wasn't a standard heroic journey arc for me. It felt epic for an adult, and I can only imagine what it was like for a kid looking for that same epic quality.
The Fire Chronicle is the long-overdue sequel. It takes place a little while after Atlas, but ultimately wastes no time. The Atlas itself is used and misused to expected and unexpected consequences, we see the story progress to the next viable part, and we again see the kids act and grow as one would expect. The voices are genuine, the story unique while being respectfully derivative, and the plot again takes chances you don't normally see in children's literature. A massive breath of fresh air.
I have no idea how The Emerald Atlas did, but I know it was buzzed about constantly prior to publication and then I basically never heard about it again. I'm really hoping The Fire Chronicle renews interest in the series, because this is one I'm looking forward to sharing with my future spawn and with people who love fantasy, because it's really a hidden gem across the board.
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