Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Review: Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

Twelve-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.

Determined to rescue her mother, the young witch and her mouse set out to track down the demon and find Hecate. However, it turns out that life outside the Glade is far more dangerous than Hazel ever could have imagined. Witch Hunters are everywhere - and the witches are using demons to fight back!

Luckily for Hazel she manages to enlist the help of a handsome boy called David, and his drunken master, Titus White, who are expert demon hunters.

And witch finders . . .

At first glance, long time readers of The Book Zone may think that Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs might not be the kind of book that I would jump to read, especially given the size of my TBR pile. Seriously, most people who know me and my blog know that I am not a fan of talking animals! However, when said book arrives with a hand written note from a publicity manager who I trust to make excellent recommendations, describing the book as "so fantastic", then there was no way I was going to leave it unread. And I'm damn glad I didn't as Fire Girl has rocketed its way into my Top 10 books of the year, and Bramley the (talking) dormouse is now one of my all time favourite fictional animals. In fact, I can even identify the exact moment Bramley endeared himself to me: as fledgling witch Hazel endeavours to escape from the magical hedge that has kept her safe from the outside world he urges her "That's it, witch-child, burn it all down". The best one line of dialogue in any book of 2015!

Most writers will tell you that the question they ask themselves the most when starting to craft a story is "What if?". In the case of Fire Girl I can imagine the questions may have been something along the lines of:

What if there really had been witches in England back in the 17th Century?
What if the whole English Civil War had taken place because Charles I believed that "I know the dangers Wielders could pose if driven underground. I deem it wise to grant them protection - that way I can control them", whilst Oliver Cromwell proclaimed that "For a pure England, I'll burn every witch".
What if a vengeful witch who has seen his kind hunted and burned, were willing to do deals with Baal himself in order to destroy Cromwell and his forces?

In Fire Girl writer Matt Ralphs has used the answers to these questions as the starting point in the creation of a story that is a masterful blend of alternative English history and thrilling magical fantasy. It is a world of where witches have familiars, some of them animal and some of them nasty demons that belong in the depths of hell. A world where the majority of witches just want a peaceful life, but are hunted or denounced for being different. A world inhabited by a young girl who so wants to have magic like her mother, but when her powers emerge there is no longer anyone around to nurture and advise, except for a grump dormouse who would rather he hadn't been 'chosen' as a witch's familiar.

Everything about this book is great: the plot, the pace and above all the characters. Hazel is courageous yet lacks self-confidence, reckless yet trusting, even if those she has to trust may be the ones who end up calling for her to be burnt as a witch. Bramley the dormouse is grumpy and argumentative, but deep down feels a tight bond to Hazel and will go to great lengths to help her, even if she does occasionally drive him nuts with her impetuousness. Bramley also plays another important part as a character - this story gets very dark at times, and Bramley has the role of the jester, bringing comic relief to lighten the mood when required. As well as Hazel and Bramley there are a host of supporting characters, who aren't all exactly as they first appear, and the author uses these in ensuring that the plot has enough twists and turns to keep every reader clinging to the edge of their seat.

Fire Girl will be released on 13th August in the UK and my thanks go to the fabulous Catherine Alport at Macmillan for bringing this wonderful book to my attention and for sending me a copy to read.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it! Can't wait for the next one! May have to wait for ever though 😞😊