fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Fire Robin McKinley Peter DickinsonFire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley & Peter Dickinson

Let me start by saying I’ve never been much for short stories. It’s not that they can’t be well done, and I admit that it takes a huge talent to do them well, but I usually find myself frustrated and wanting more. Probably because I am used to reading full-length novels. That being said, I enjoyed reading Fire. There are five stories, two by Robin McKinley and three by Peter Dickinson. I’m a huge fan of McKinley, but this is the first time I’ve read anything by Dickinson.

Because they are short stories, it is hard to share much about them without giving away the wonder of reading them. In order then:

“Phoenix” — I liked this one. A young girl finds herself involved in the long history of the phoenix. It takes place in an English setting, but there is a wonderful story of how the phoenix came to be in England, and I was completely drawn into the story. I found this version of the phoenix tale the most interesting of any I’ve read to date.

“Hellhound” — This was my favorite of the stories. It starts off with “Miri had been the sort of child who believe that every pony with a star on its forehead had been born a unicorn and had agreed to give up its horn to become a pony and bring happiness into some child’s life.” In the story, Miri lives with her family at a riding stable. She adopts a big, ugly, red-eyed dog — that she decides is a hellhound — from the shelter Miri eventually has to help rescue her brother with the help of his girlfriend and Flame the hellhound. The pacing of the story was good.

“Fireworm” — Switching from contemporary settings, this one goes back to ice age times. The style is reminiscent of Indian or Aleutian folklore. A young man — outcast of his tribe — takes on the aspect of a bear to save his people from the dreaded Fireworm. Lot’s of dreamwalking. I did enjoy this one and appreciated the sense of empathy Dickinson imparts to the reader for the monster of the tale.

“Salamander Man” — This was the shortest of the stories. It was such a fast read, that it felt like it was over too soon. In it, we switch from Ice Age to an Arabian desert type setting. This one was probably my least favorite story. It started off well. An orphaned slave boy with special powers is bought by a wizard who locks him in a room and then disappears. That held my interest, and when he transforms into the Salamander Man, I was hooked. But after that the story seemed very rushed and ended with an info-dump of why everything that happened to the hero had taken place.

“First Flight” — the final story is the longest and is probably closer to novella length. While not my favorite, it was still an enjoyable read. It is the tale of a young healer mage named Ern coming into his powers. His older brother, Dag, is training to be a dragon rider and the tale takes place as Dag is about to take his first solo flight into Firespace. Dag’s dragon has been injured in the past in such a way that makes flying in Firespace impossible. Ern accompanies Dag to the Academy along with his pet foogit and between them, they manage the impossible. The thing I liked most about this story was the ending and how Robin McKinley handled the way Ern deals with what has happened. It stayed true to the story and was a bit of a surprise.

Overall, they were all enjoyable stories, and I’m encouraged to try more short stories in the future. I will definitely be reading Water by these authors to see where they take me with that element and look forward to Earth and Air. And I will have to track down some of Peter Dickinson’s YA novels — just not sure where to start.

Fire — (2009) Publisher: Master storytellers Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson, the team behind Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits, collaborate again to create five captivating tales incorporating the element of fire. In McKinley’s “First Flight,” a boy and his pet foogit unexpectedly take a dangerous ride on a dragon, and her “Hellhound” stars a mysterious dog as a key player in an eerie graveyard showdown. Dickinson introduces a young man who must defeat the creature threatening his clan in “Fireworm,” a slave who saves his village with a fiery magic spell in “Salamander Man,” and a girl whose new friend, the guardian of a mystical bird, is much older than he appears in “Phoenix.” With time periods ranging from prehistoric to present day, and settings as varied as a graveyard, a medieval marketplace and a dragon academy, these stories are sure to intrigue and delight the authors’ longtime fans and newcomers alike.


  • Sarah Webb (guest)

    SARAH WEBB, a guest contributor, is Ruth's sister. They grew up together in a house where books were as important as food and shelter. Sarah reads almost any fantasy and dabbles mostly in the space opera end of the science fiction universe with an occasional break to catch up on the mystery scene. Someday, she will have a house with enough bookshelves to house her collection correctly.

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