Volume 21 Number 1
Fire Ship is a story of confused loyalties, shattered dreams, and growing up during the War of 1812. Thirteen-year-old Dan Dobson and his family have recently immigrated to York (present-day Toronto) from the United States. He works with his father and brothers to build the British frigate Sir Isaac Brock, and dreams of sailing with her into battle. Dan's excitement about and sense of adventure towards the war change when he experiences the results of battle first hand.
Marianne Brandis is the author of three previous novels for young readers: The Tinderbox, The Quarter-Pie Window and The Sign of the Scales, Fire Ship, like the other books, is well researched; the historical detail is well blended with the plot to produce a realistic setting. Unfortunately, its characters lack the depth of her previous stories. The reader is left at times observing the action along with Dan, rather than being actively involved with him.
Fire Ship carries an important message — war is not "something splendid" as Dan first thought; rather, it is "something incomprehensible and mad." The dilemmas faced by Dan — his recent immigration, the visit from his American cousin, the burning of the Sir Isaac Brock — clearly show that war is not black and white. In her effort to convey this lesson, however, Brandis has surrendered some of her depth and involvement.
Fire Ship is a good novel. The issues it raises — from name calling to the realization that not all dreams come true — are real and of interest to young readers. And the book does give us, as its jacket claims, "an historically accurate slice of the lives of (hose people who helped to build this country."
Fire Ship is an historical novel that deals with many important issues — a good choice.
Anne Kelly is a part-time Masters of Education student at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a substitute teacher with the Halifax and Dartmouth District School Boards
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