________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 2004


The Fire Demons. (The Mole Wars, Book One).

J. Fitzgerald McCurdy.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2004.
295 pp., cloth, $24.99.
ISBN 0-00-200573-5.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

**** /4


"There sat the familiar, sinister figure of Maddie Fey.

She watched him, unsmiling, her eyes changing from blue to silver and back again. She looked cold and cruel in a long black gown. Her silver neck glinted in the candlelight. Steele felt like a fool as he realized that when the rat had said that Maddie Fey was changing, he had meant her clothes. On the floor beside her, its great head resting on the arm of her hair, was a large animal. It could have been a dog, but it didn't resemble any dog Steele had ever seen. For one thing, when it blinked at him, he noticed that it had two pupils in each eye. For another thing, its fur was shimmering silver, like Maddie Fey's icy eyes.

"Come in, Steele," said Maddie Fey, pointing at the throne to her immediately (sic) left. "I've been waiting for you."

Her voice was clear and sophisticated, and as cold as the North Pole.

Steele didn't move. He folded his arms across his chest.

"Why did you bring me here?" he demanded in a voice that sounded braver than he felt.

Maddie Fey stared at him for a moment as if sizing him up, deciding what or how much to tell him. Steele waited, wondering what she could possibly say. He let his eyes drift about the table. The other thrones were empty. He looked back at Maddie Fey. But when she finally spoke, her answer left him speechless.

"I brought you here to keep you alive this night."

Steele Miller has a lot going on in his 11-year-old life. He is the target of a gang of bullies who beat him up and demand his money. This event causes problems with Steele's dad because Steele feels forced to fib about what's happening. Then Steele starts to hear voices coming from underground, and a new student at school seems to take a very unusual interest in him. Meanwhile, kids his age all over Canada and the US are disappearing without a trace.

     The Fire Demons is the first book of a fantasy series which will undoubtedly prove popular. Steele and his friends encounter a parallel universe underneath the streets of Toronto and New York which is filled with all kinds of unearthly terrors - Fire Demons, Moles, wardens and worms living beside both people and predatory rats. Yet Steele has reason to believe he is on the trail of the missing children and is, therefore, willing to face any dangers in order to find and save them.

     McCurdy's plot is fast-moving with action on every page. There are enough twists and turns of fate to keep even reluctant readers on the edge of their seats. Although sprinkled with the supernatural and fantastic, the plot moves in an orderly and believable manner and the characters of Steele, Mac, Riley and Sydney are well-drawn, contemporary and intelligent. Steele's father, a police officer, tries to be the voice of adult certainty in an increasingly terrifying and crazy world. Steele's grandmother is reminiscent of one of the mythological Fates. She never speaks but sits in her rocking chair, stares into space and knits endlessly.

     McCurdy's writing is straightforward and highly descriptive without being "wordy." Chapters average 10-12 pages, with brief excerpts from the "Wardens' logs" as brief intervals between chapters. The novel lends itself to discussion about what friendship means and about current teen issues such as bullying. The book comes to a resolution but doesn't truly end. Thus, readers are left to anticipate the next adventures of Steele and his friends when, on the last page, the Prince of Darkness "rubbed his hands together, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter. Come into my parlour, little flies."

     This first book of "The Mole Wars" series is sure to draw young teens' attention and has the potential to become a real favourite. This thrilling fantasy would be an excellent addition to any school library.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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