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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Fire Chronicle

The Books of Beginning, Book Two

by John Stephens


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The Fire Chronicle
The Books of Beginning, Book Two

by John Stephens

Review posted June 8, 2013.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2012. 437 pages.

I'm reviewing this book not so much as a fan, but as a librarian. I'll explain some of the reasons it's not a personal favorite -- but why I will be very happy to hand it to certain kids who often come to the library looking for more books to read. And I did enjoy reading it. Enough to review it even when I'm swamped and much choosier about which books I review, just not enough to think of it as a favorite.

I'm calling the niche this book fills Magical Adventure Saga books. I think of them as books after Harry Potter, books for kids who find the Eragon books or the Ranger's Apprentice books. They are very often quest books. One thing after another happens and evil sinister sorcerers and their creepy minions are after Our Heroes and they find out they have special powers of their own, and they must stay ahead of the bad guys, and the fate of the world is at stake.

Now to really give The Fire Chronicle a fair reading, I should have started with Book One, The Emerald Atlas, and The Emerald Atlas is the book I will hand to the readers I think might enjoy this trilogy. (One more book is planned.) On the other hand, I read the first book of another Magical Adventure Saga, The Dragon's Tooth, and by the time I finished it, I found I couldn't bring myself to finish the second book. (Though I had read enough in the first book to also be sure that it will have eager readers.)

In The Fire Chronicle, Kate, Michael, and Emma have been discovered, and are chased right away by the evil and creepy Screechers that they encountered in the earlier book. In the process of escaping them, Kate goes back in time and gets trapped there. So Michael is in charge in the present of the quest for The Fire Chronicle, the second of the Books of the Beginning, about which it's been prophesied that three children will bring them together.

In the quest for The Chronicle, Michael and Emma get into one breathless life-threatening adventure after another. Meanwhile, I enjoyed Kate's more thoughtful adventures in the past. She has arrived just before the Separation, when the magical world is going into hiding, and all of us ordinary folks will forget that magic exists. But meanwhile she meets someone whose fate she may affect, and whom she's met before -- in the future.

I am not a big fan of plots involving time travel, or prophecy, and the magic-working seemed pretty iffy to me, too. I didn't like how many different perspectives the author used and felt some of the soul-searching was overdone. But there were many moments I enjoyed. I found the budding romance wonderfully poignant, and the spell the elf princess casts hilarious. I also think there are a lot of kids not as detail-oriented and persnickety as me who will thoroughly enjoy this tale. I like that the kids are firmly kids. Yes, they grow, but this is a children's book from start to finish, and even J. K. Rowling moved her series to young adult before she finished. I'm not sure I'll go back and read the first book, and I'm not sure I'll read the third book, but in a time when I'm swamped with books to read, I couldn't bring myself to stop reading this one until I'd finished. And I've already thought of a reader I'm going to recommend these books to the next time I see him.