Tag Archives: witches

Review of ebook Kindle edition of Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

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This children’s fantasy offering is interesting. It is an alternative history, set in the aftermath of the English Civil War during the Protectorate when Oliver Cromwell is ruling. Except what sparked this version of the Civil War isn’t the Divine Right of Kings and Charles I’s stubborn insistence on trying to wrest control away from Parliament – it is the Witch Wars, where Charles’ refusal to hound witches to extinction is the cause of the war.

firegirlTwelve-year-old Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in a magical Glade created by her mother, Hecate. She’s desperate to meet new people and find out about the world. And, more than anything, she wants to be a witch. But when her mother is kidnapped by a demon – everything changes . Suddenly Hazel is alone in the world. Well. . . not quite alone. For it turns out that Hazel does have magic – she’s just not very good at controlling it. And she may have accidentally created a grumpy familiar in the form of a dormouse called Bramley.

I really liked the nifty way that Ralphs has kept his young protagonist isolated from the rest of the 17th century world, where young girls were expected to be demure, very obedient and quiet. Not at all the attributes that would appeal to modern youngsters looking for an adventurous read – and Hazel is suitably feisty and courageous because she has been shut away from the rest of the world tucked away in the magical Glade. The relationship she has with Bramley is also sparky – literally at times, as Hazel’s control over her lethal magic is tenuous. The little mouse is thoroughly fed up at the prospect of all the adventures, and provides an amusing, running commentary on the proceedings.

Hazel is immediately swept up in a series of adventures as she wanders the countryside, trying to work out what has happened to her mother, and encounters other people who are prepared to help. I very much like the fact that none of them are what they initially seem. The antagonist and his evil team are genuinely frightening – the demon Rawhead and the giant poisonous spider Spindle in particular are full of menace. As is the smooth-talking Nicholas Murrell, who initially led the persecuted witches against Cromwell’s troops, but his thirst for power had led him down some dark paths. I enjoyed the fact that he is not some pantomime, two dimensional villain, but was evidently determined to stand up for an oppressed minority with courage and bravery during the war.

All in all, this is an accomplished, enjoyable tale set in a complex, believable world where the magical rules all nicely hang together. Any niggles? The formatting in the ebook leaves much to be desired – I very much hope it gets sorted out before the book goes live in August, as the chapter headings are accompanied by short extracts from ‘contemporary’ books, embellished by attractive decoration which is all thoroughly mangled.

I’m assuming the book is targeted at young teens, but this punchy, well written tale will have wider appeal for older fans who enjoys a well told fantasy adventure, which will be published in August 2015. The review copy was provided via Netgalley by the publisher, and all the opinions in the review are my own.
8/10

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Review of The Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander

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This sequel to the intriguing The Secrets of Life and Death follows the same format – a dual narrative in the viewpoint of Edward Kelley, former assistant to the famous Dr John Dee; and the contemporary strand in the voice of Jackdaw Hammond. Does this book build on the promise of the first one?

Venice, 16th century. Having undertaken a mission of the upmost discretion, occultist and scholar Edward Kelley finds the answers he seeks are more perilous than can be believed, and his ultimate salvation means confronting the darkest deeds of his past.

secretsofbloodandboneEngland, 21st century. Running from her past and hiding from her future, Jackdaw Hammond inherits an old house in the middle of nowhere. But her fresh start is threatened by a wild magic similar to her own. The legacy of Edward Kelley remains, and with their fates inexorably intertwined the battle for Jackdaw’s soul has just begun.

While you don’t have to have read the first book – see my review here – it certainly helped that I was already bonded to Jack and wanted her to succeed. This strand packs a punch – the overgrown cottage and rampant garden immediately caught my attention, as well as the fate of the previous owner… Alexander’s pacing and characterisation is more sure-footed in this book as we, once more, untangle a murder mystery and learn another aspect of supernatural creatures existing alongside the rest of us. While Jackdaw finds herself steadily changing as a consequence of actions that happened at the end of the first book.

I really enjoyed the progression of the characters throughout the book – Alexander is very good at following through the consequences of her protagonists’ adventures, which gives an interesting edge to this fantasy. The story took several completely unexpected twists, which had me hooked. The antagonists were also written with more immediacy – there was a constant sense of threat that steadily grew throughout the book, giving the climax a real punch.

Meanwhile, Edward Kelley is also following coping with the fallout resulting in his own actions as his studies lead him to Venice. His observations of Venetian life at the height of the city state’s power are enjoyable as he finds himself sucked into yet another scheme by a powerful family who need his skills.

As for the ending – well I certainly didn’t see that coming! It was a strong unexpected conclusion to a really enjoyable, outstanding read.
10/10