Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Clara is a lonely rich girl, who feels unloved and overlooked by her parents. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are desperately poor children forced by their heartless guardian to help him run his puppet theatre on the grimy Victorian streets. Chance brings them together to battle a terrible evil.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408826218

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There is a lot of magic in this wonderful book, but for the most part it is not the children who wield it. They are, at least to begin with, mere pawns in a deadly struggle between the puppeteer Grisini and a dying witch, quite unaware of the battles being raged between the two immensely powerful magicians. But as they come to understand the full horror of their situation, they find themselves having to work together to survive.

Grisini has many dark powers, and one of them is the ability to turn children into marionettes, either for ransom or to people the little puppet theatre he has created. As the story opens he is training Parsefall as his assistant, and the young boy's nimble fingers are soon adept at all but the most difficult tasks. Fourteen-year-old Lizzie Rose is less gifted with the puppets, but she plays the music for performances and generally looks after everyone. They have no idea what their guardian is capable of until the day they realise the little rich girl who asked them to perform at her birthday party has actually been turned into a pretty wooden ballerina.

Saving Clara would be more than enough of a storyline for most books, but this is an unapologetically long tale (to the delight of those are so enthralled by it that they wish it would never end), and the plot is overlaid with another, more sinister theme. The witch Cassandra is held in thrall by a fire opal which gives her power but causes her terrible pain: only Grisini knows the secret way to control it and stop it from burning her alive.

Four hundred pages is a lot in a book for younger readers, but they need not be daunted by this because they will be amply rewarded for their time and efforts. The story is complex, looking into the heads of several of the main characters including the horrified Clara, but it is at all times utterly gripping. Why can't Parsefall remember his past? Where does Grisini disappear to? What happened to the other children who vanished? Who are The Others, and why does guilt weigh so heavily on Clara's life? The author does not hesitate to show in detail the miseries caused by poverty and the restrictions imposed by riches; magic is not a sparkly, entertaining trick but a cruel and vicious power which entails the pain and even death of others to be effective. The book is so beautifully written than the reader is completely absorbed in its pages, feeling with Lizzie Rose the shame of a dress which is too short, and Parsefall's determination to steal a little from the abundance of the rich. We experience the agony of the witch as the opal burns her skin, and even the remorse Clara's parents feel as they realise they may have lost their child forever. It is, quite simply, a marvellous book which will certainly be read and reread with immense pleasure.

Laura Amy Schlitz has deservedly won several prizes for her writing in the States, including the 2008 Newbery medal, and we look forward to reading many more of her splendid stories. This particular book is known in her home country as Splendors and Glooms.

If you like your stories with a touch of the mysterious, the menacing and the fantastic, you will definitely enjoy Neversuch House and Neversuch House: Mask of the Evergones by Elliott Skell.

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Buy Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz at


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