Friday, February 14, 2014

Sara's Library: The Fire Chronicle

The Fire Chronicle by John Stephens
Book two of The Books of Beginning trilogy
Knopf 2012

Summary from Goodreads: "It's been six months since Kate, Michael and Emma confronted the Dire Magnus, but the trail to their long-lost family remains cold. Then Michael and Emma find the man who was the last person to see them. He knows about a secret map of a distant, mysterious land - maybe this is the clue that will lead them to their parents...

"Meanwhile, Kate's connection to the Book of Time grows ever stronger, and when a dangerous trick traps her in the past, she must find new friends to help her return home. 

"Once more the children must embark on a daring and perilous quest to find the second Book of Beginning and harness its power. But will it be enough to save them all?"

Some readers may remember my enthusiastic review of the first installment of the series.  While that volume had some minor issues with genre tropes, it was a fast-paced entertaining ride that somehow felt genuine, rather than something cobbled together from better elements of fantasy literature.  Not so with The Fire Chronicle.  

I don't have a perfect memory of the last volume, but I thought Mr. Stephens's writing regressed here.  Telling comprised at least two-thirds of the book, rather than showing.  I realize this is a children's novel, but children are intelligent and intuitive.  They don't need the author to constantly reiterate the characters' feelings.  
This installment also read like every successful fantasy element was thrown into a blender in an attempt to sell books.  In addition to the time travel introduced previously, elves, dragons, an evil immortal wizard (a.k.a. Voldemort), and a book with the power to heal were all included, as well as the cast of Oliver Twist and an unnecessary star-crossed love interest for Kate.  I feel like Mr. Stephens should have chosen the most important elements and left out the rest because this really has an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feeling to it.  I found it all to be rather disappointing, especially after the first book.

So what was good about book two?  Due to events that lead the three siblings to be separated, there's some decent character development, primarily with middle child Michael.  While he retains his geeky traits, he also matures and shows himself to be a confident, caring brother when given the opportunity.  For the most part, Kate is still the maternal figure and Emma is the loose cannon.  I think it's doubtful that this will be remedied in the final book, but at least there was some effort with Michael here.

Will I read The Black Reckoning?  Of course.  I've invested a decent amount of time into this series, and I'd like to see how it resolves itself.  That being said, it will not be with the same feelings of anticipation I  had after finishing The Emerald Atlas.  What once had great potential has become something merely mediocre.

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