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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in Victorian London in 1860, Fire Spell will appeal to young readers with a penchant for magical adventure and fantasy. Clara Wintermute comes from a wealthy but rather melancholy family, not surprising given that all her siblings were wiped out by cholera. She longs for some excitement in her life and this comes in the shape of the puppeteer, Grisini, a Fagin-like character and his young urchin assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall (the Artful Dodger?). Unfortunately, in true Victorian melodrama style, all does not bode well and Clara ends up imprisoned in the body of a puppet while Grisini engages in magical and mental battle with the aged witch Cassandra. Will Clara ever return to human form? Can Lizzie Rose and Parsefall help her whilst evading the clutches of their evil master? Does Cassandra have a human heart after all?

Yes, it's all rather melodramatic but extremely good fun and reminiscent of the adventures of E Nesbit's characters with touches of Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book as well as a pinch of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Trilogy. Targeted at the 9-12 age group, at almost 400 pages, I think it's perhaps only suitable for very confident readers in the younger age bracket but it is an enjoyable romp of a read for anyone who enjoys an exciting, magical, well plotted story with no great surprises en route.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is being recommended for children between about 8-11: I guess children are probably older at this age than I was but it's worth knowing that this would have terrified me when I was that age. Not necessarily in a `horror' way (although the idea of a little girl being trapped in a marionette's body is certainly creepy), but because of the emotional intensity of Clara situation and the fact that she is plagued by the idea that her parents don't really love her - scary stuff for a child.

This is a book which doesn't speak down to children both in the dark plotting and the writing style. The use of vocabulary is never simple (a moon is `gibbous', for example) so this is an excellent book for anyone wanting to encourage a child to get into the habit of looking up unknown words to expand their vocabulary.

Although set in the mid-Victorian period (c.1860), and with three child heroes, there's no sentimentality about this tale. So this isn't at all the innocuous, girly fairy-tale hinted at by the cover: with elements of dark productions of The Nutcracker and a sort of twisted version of Coppélia mixed up with Oliver Twist, this is creepy and sinister in a really good way.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 14 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This delightful fantasy has just about everything that the younger reader
might require to stay glued to the page from beginning to end. Laura Amy
Schlitz's inventive and atmospheric narrative, with its shades of Carlo
Collodi's 1863 novel 'Pinocchio', deserves to become a children's classic
with its tangled tale of friendship, good versus evil and all manner of
deviously supernatural shenanigans. A darkly imaginative tour de force.

The characters are uniformly well-drawn. Clara, a worthy young heroine;
Grissini, a deliciously evil puppeteer; Cassandra, a powerful but ailing
witch and a rich cast of colourful auxiliary players all come to life in the
author's beautifully detailed prose. A gripping story for a cold Winter's night.

Highly Recommended.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 22 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Fire Spell is a traditional tale of mystery, magic and morality given a modern twist. Reminded me of Pinnochio on more than one occasion because there's a puppeteer, puppet show and a child trapped inside a puppets body. There's also a strong suggestion of Lord of the Rings except, in Fire Spell, they're fighting for possession of an opal and not a ring. Fire Spell is packed with twists and turns as we follow the journey of Lizzie Rose, Paresefall and Clara as they become involved in a terrible power struggle between the sinister Grisini (puppeteer) and the witch (Cassandra). Set in and around 1860s London, Laura Amy Schultz has created an authentic dark and brooding atmosphere without ever becoming gloomy and miserable which is quite an achievement. The story is all about movement, challenge, finding out and discovery. There's rarely more than a few pages before you're off again and following a different direction. This is a long novel for the suggested age range (9-12 years). There are 384 pages but; there's enough pace and action throughout the plot to keep the pages turning. If I have a criticism it would be that Cassandra and Grisini aren't ever completely bad. They do bad things but don't develop a true nasty nature and that's a shame. Young people in this age range enjoy being scared, they love creepy and those elements would have just taken Fire Spell to the next level, made it a little bit more believable. However; this is a wonderful, magical adventure and not just for those under 11 :)
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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Fire Spell. Firstly, it's set in Victorian England - and it's written by an American writer. But it's perfectly written - in the very humble endnote, Schlitz thanks the person who helped her get the language and tone right, and I think that almost impresses me more than anything else in this book. It is a completely unpretentious, emotionally true story of three children and a fire opal - a magical stone that gives both great power and great pain to its bearer.

In London, 1860: Clara celebrates her twelfth birthday with a puppet show, presided over by sinister puppetmaster Grisini, assisted by his two apprentices. Clara is lonely and eager to befriend Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, but things don't go as she expects. Grisini traps her in the form of a marionette - and then promptly goes missing.

The machinations of Grisini, and his old nemesis - the wielder of the fire opal, a powerful witch named Cassandra - take Lizzie Rose and Parsefall far north, where great danger awaits.

The exposition of our protagonists' backstories and motivations are carefully unfolded - why Clara is lonely, why Lizzie Rose acts like a lady, why Parsefall is a thief. The timing and transitions are handled capably and with finesse. Although I read this in bursts over a longer time than usual (a sure recipe for a dragging read in all senses), I was pleasantly surprised that I never felt it lost any momentum. The plot wasn't convoluted, but neither was it predictable: in some ways, it has a flavour of Diana Wynne Jones' imagination (although without the zaniness that characterises her work), with a gothic-ish, Dickensian feel. If you like Un Lun Dun, you'll like Fire Spell.

Fire Spell is a self-contained standalone book. It doesn't, perhaps, stay with you after you finish it, but while you're reading, you're totally immersed in the warmth of the characters, the suspense of the story, and the gentle writing style. Confident younger readers (9+) could easily manage it, but older readers should enjoy it, too. I did. I'm much older than 11 XD
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VINE VOICEon 2 May 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Don't confuse this book with "Firespell" by Chloe Neill - they are two totally different books.
Fire Spell is set in Victorian London in 1860, and tells the story of Clara Wintermute. She comes from a wealthy family, but tragically her siblings fall victim to an epidemic of cholera. Clara looks for some comfort and finds a puppeteer, Grisini, and pursuades her father to let him put on a puppet show to celebrate her twelfth birthday. The sinister Grisini brings his two assistants, children called Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. Clara is magically trapped inside a puppet. I'll say no more of the story save that it involves witches and magic.
The writer skillfully developes the characters and we learn more of their back stories as we go along. The book is well written and quite engaging. At around 400 pages long it might be rather daunting to younger readers, and some of the vocabulary isn't in common usage, but for more inquisitive kids it may encourage them with their reading.
On the whole, a good read, if a little creepy!
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VINE VOICEon 24 July 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
We open the book to find an old witch Cassandra dreaming of being burned alive. She wakes remembering a man called Grisini who had told her the opal that gives her her magic would burn her alive. She tries to smash the stone, then...

We shift to London in the autumn of 1860. Clara is a upper class young girl hoping that Grisini the puppeteer will be allowed to come to her birthday party. She lives in material wealth but abject emotional poverty, the only survivor of the cholera that took her 4 siblings including her twin brother. Her mother's grief makes her home a haunted melancholy place, Clara has to be silent and never to be a child.

Lizzie-Rose and Parsefall are orphans, employed and sometimes fed by Grisini. Parsefall is learning to play the puppets, Lizzie-Rose does the fetching and carrying. Dirt poor and unloved they marvel at Clara's house as they bring the puppet stage in. Paresefall has his mind on petty theivery, but Grisini has something much worse in mind and the children find themselves unwittingly caught up in his spell casting and ancient feud with Cassandra.

A lovely well written book, you can really feel the texture of London both from the viewpoint of Parsefall and Lizzie-Rose struggling to stay alive and Clara who has the money to pay road sweepers to clear the roads of horse dung for her should she step down from her carriage. Schiltz conjures the cold, the filth, and the suspense as the narrative hurtles onward. A great read for I would say 9-13 year olds.
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VINE VOICEon 10 June 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"The witch burned ..." opens the prologue, drawing the reader in, and ending enticingly: "The fire opal flashed like the eye of a phoenix."

Meanwhile, it's 1860, and in the Dickensian streets of London, Clara Wintermute is spellbound by the work of some puppeteers she watches in the park. The fantoccini trio, Grisini the boss, Parsefall and Lizzie Rose his two ragged child assistants, are invited to perform in Clara Wintermute's house for her 12th birthday, but soon after Clara disappears. It will be up to Parsefall and Lizzie Rose to discover her whereabouts, and pit their wits against evil and magic in order to free her.

The first half of the novel takes us deep into the worlds of Parsefall and Lizzie Rose; we learn about their lives gradually through their dreams, and confessions to each other: and will learn that death and violence has overshadowed their childhood. Clara may be rich, but death has similarly stalked her family's life. Grisini is sinister as a figure with power over the children in his care, but even he is held in terrible thrall by the witch, Cassandra, and her fire opal.

Fire Spell is an unexpected fantasy, in that the magical elements are few and far between, and when they do occur are of a macabre nature. "Good" magic, if it exists here, comes from the children; otherwise, it is an agent for pain, bloodshed and control. The atmosphere of the novel is gloomy, and grimy, perfectly in sync with the era in which it is set: the "gothic twist" comparison with Tim Burton certainly rings true.

Yet, I found the story for the first half at least, to be overly detailed and slow. I was impatient for something to happen. Once the two children made their way to Strachan's Ghyll, the domain of the witch, things became more interesting, although even then the novel was in no hurry to disclose its secrets. The oddness and complexity of the story should be more than enough to hold a reader's attention, and I don't really know why I found it such a chore to finish.

Schlitz is a good writer, able to create depth and subtlety with her prose; she also does something different with her fantasy, being daring enough to fill it with darkness, and creating light from the awkward relationship that develops between the 3 children. Hopefully the young readers this book is aimed at will connect with the characters, live with them through the story, and not experience any of the issues that I did. This is one of those novels I wish I'd liked more and is probably better than my rating suggests.
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The novel starts in a fog-hit London 1860 and follows orphans Parsefall and Lizzie Rose. They've been taken in by the evil Grisini the puppet-master to help him with his puppet act. Gaspare Grisini is wonderfully painted as the evil, sinister, shifty old man a la Fagin. Theirs is a life of poverty and they are summoned to do a birthday performance for Clara, a 12-year-old child who lost all 4 of her brothers and sisters to cholera. At the performance there is a brilliantly-written scene of the skeleton act that really brings it to life, and Clara really enjoyed it too.

Clara then gets kidnapped and Grisini becomes the main suspect. But when his 2-room rented space is searched there is no sign of the kidnapped girl. That's because she has been magic-ed into an inventive hiding place, with Grisini only planning to return her once he has received his healthy ransom fee.

However things don't go to plan and things take a twist as the cast are uprooted to the home of a witch in Windermere, in the north of England. There lots of things happen, with magic playing a factor.

To me the first half of the book was better than the second. There the grubbiness Victorian London and the contrast between the well-off and the downtrodden came across really well, and the story was more purposeful. When the book went to Windermere loads of ideas were thrown in, some of them good, and others maybe not so good - how did Clara break her magic exactly, and how would it normally have been broken?

Anyway, it is still a well-written book surely inspired by Oliver Twist, and is worth a read. And if you liked it then another clever book with a lot of ideas thrown into it that you could try is A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.
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on 11 January 2013
Fire spells is a wonderfully creepy book that has all the charm of a classic and the originality that comes with skillful storytelling. It's the perfect read for cold winter nights spent curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of hot tea in one hand and your book in the other.
Set in 1860 London, it's the story of three children, a wicked magician and a cursed witch.
When rich but lonely Clara disappears the night of her birthday party, the prime suspect is Gaspare Grisini, the puppet master who enchanted Clara with his spellbinding show at the party. But her parents and the police are helpless. It's up to Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, the two orphans who work for Grisini, to unravel the mystery and save Clara from her fate.
The two main characters, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are easy to love, both for different reasons. The youngest, Parsefall, is a little grumpy rascal, who loves working his puppets despite resenting Grisini's power over him. Lizzie Rose is more mature and responsible, but she also has to rely on Grisini for work and shelter and hates it. Because the puppet master is clearly not a loving guardian. The two children fear him and they have good reasons to. As soon as Clara disappears, they know that Grisini has something to do with it, when they find a puppet scarily similar to Clara in their master's box. In fact, Parsefall is convinced that it is Clara, and somehow Grisini has managed to turn her into a puppet.
I loved how the story unravels. The pace is quick, but not too quick, so that it gives you time to get to know the characters and care for them. The villains are really creepy. Grisini is perfect as the wicked magician. He's scary and horrible just as he should be. And the witch is a surprising character with an interesting, multi-layered personality who plays a very important role in the lives of the children.
The American title is Splendours and Glooms, which, I think, reflects the story very well. The splendours of Clara's richness and the glooms that hide behind the surface of her sheltered life; the splendours of the puppets show and the glooms of the life behind the curtains; the splendours of the witch's castle full of jewels and servants, and the glooms of her unhappy life.
I really recommend this read to anyone who likes a good story. There was magic, there were great characters whom I was sad to leave at the end, there was an intriguing plot and a beautiful ending. There was everything I look for in a book.
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