science fiction and fantasy book reviewsThe Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman children's fantasy book reviewsThe Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a short children’s book written by Phillip Pullman and it’s a little gem. Pullman pulls off a perfect recipe of magic, adventure and pure fun in this sparkling little fairy tale.

Lila is the daughter of the talented firework maker Lachland. All Lila wants is to become a true firework maker herself, but to do so she must make the perilous journey to the fire-fiend Razvani and bring back some Royal Sulphur. What’s worse, she sets off before her father can tell her the one thing she’ll need to survive Razvani’s flames. Luckily Lila has good friends in the form of Hamlet, the talking white elephant, and his special minder Chaluk, who follow Lila in hot pursuit, bumping into goddesses, tigers and pirates on the way.

The story is alive with detail. The setting is vibrant, the characters are larger than life, and oh, the fireworks! First there’s the ingredients — Glimmer-Juice, Salts-of-shadow and Fire-Crystals. And then there are the fireworks themselves, from Golden Sneezes and Crackle-Dragons to Incandescent Fountains. In every nook of the story there’s something to delight the taste buds, be it in Pullman’s topsy-turvy description of “crackling smells” and “pungent noises” or in his comic characters — my personal favourite being Rambashi the hapless chicken farmer turned benevolent pirate. The setting is unidentified but the influence is far-eastern conjured by the jostling streets full of rickshaws and food stalls and the jungle full of dangerous noises and ferocious tigers.

Pullman treats his young audience with respect (other writers might shy away from referencing Wagner’s the “Ride of the Valkyries,” but not Pullman) and all credit to him for that. The story is fuelled by themes of courage, friendship and family. It was only in the cheesy ending that I had to remind myself that I am probably not the target audience. All-in-all, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is one of my favourite of Pullman’s tales for children.

Published in 1995. What Lila wants to be more than anything else in the world is …a Firework-Maker! But firework-making is not just about being able to make Crackle-Dragons and Golden Sneezes. There is also one special secret: every Firework-Maker must make a perilous journey to face the terrifying Fire-Fiend! Not knowing that she needs special protection to survive the Fire-Fiend’s flames, Lila sets off alone. Her friends, Chulak and Hamlet – the King’s white elephant – race after her. But can they possibly reach her in time?


  • Katie Burton

    KATIE BURTON (on FanLit's staff September 2015 -- September 2018) was a solicitor in London before becoming a journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

    View all posts