“Clara disappears on her birthday. Exceptionally wealthy and exceptionally lonely, she requested for a puppeteer and his two orphan helpers to stage a spellbinding show for her in the vast empty house. But then the curtains close and darkness falls…”
This is an enticing young adult title with a very Dickensian setting, a cast of memorable characters and a large twist of magic.
Clara Wintermute is a young Victorian girl, cosseted by parents who are terrified of losing her after cholera took away her brothers and sisters in a childhood epidemic. Rich, but lonely, she longs for excitement and love.
Orphans Lizzie-Rose and Parsefall work for the ‘great Grisini’, a puppet master extraordinaire. Living in shabby one-room digs and at the mercy of Grisini’s cruelty, meanness and temper, they tout the heavy puppet theatre on a cart around the streets of London. Invited to perform at Clara’s birthday party, it seems Clara might finally have found a friend in Lizzie-Rose, but the plot takes a sinister turn when Grisini captures Clara and imprisons her in the body of one of his puppets. What evil magic does Grisini possess? Can Clara ever be freed?
The characters are completed by Cassandra, a witch who lives under the spell of the Fire Opal, a magical stone which she stole from her best friend many years ago. While bestowing her with great power, it’s also destroying her by its heat and flames. She knows that the stone will soon lead to her fiery death, but greed ensures she can’t bear to part with the power the Fire Opal gives her.
As she ails, however, Grisini rises. He’d do anything to gain the stone and he knows that the only way the stone and its power can pass to another is if it’s stolen by a child. And it just so happens that Grisini has 3 children – Clara, Lizzie-Rose and Parsefall – under his spell. With the characters gathered, the stage is set for the story to unfold.
Fire Spell is an enjoyable read. It has good pace, and the characters, especially the children, are well crafted. Parsefall is slightly reminiscent of The Artful Dodger from Dicken’s Oliver Twist; Clara and Lizzie Rose are readable heroines. The book has a fairytale feel to it, with the wooden puppets, the evil puppeteer, the witch, the children. But while it has its dark, sinister moments, it’s not an out and out scary book. Ultimately the book ensures that good must battle evil, but more importantly, the children’s secrets and desires will form an important part of the ultimate denouement. It’s not literary fiction – some bits of the plot don’t work as well as others – but if you like a welltold story with a twist of magic, you should give this one a go.
Many thanks to Jane for the review.