Kingfisher sent me a copy of the second book in Terry Deary's Fire Thief series. Because I'm a bit compulsive about series, before I could read it I had to go back and read the first book: The Fire Thief. The Fire Thief is a small format hardcover book with rough-edged pages, and should be a relatively quick and easy read for the middle grade set. The story alternates between two settings: Ancient Greece, during the time that Prometheus is being punished by Zeus for giving the gift of fire to the fledgling human race, and 1858 Eden City, when the city was teeming with criminals, smog, and hopelessness.
The narrator of The Fire Thief is young Jim, an orphan adopted by a con man who he calls Uncle Edward. Jim and Uncle Edward tour the country, offering dramatic entertainment for wealthy households. The fact that they also steal from said wealthy households in no way detracts from their skill in performing. Jim has been selected from the orphanage because of his gift for memorization. Edward displays a remarkable facility for bamboozling people through his quick tongue. As the story begins, the two performers arrive in the bleak misery that is Eden City, and set about to perform for (i.e. rob) Mucklethrift Manor. In alternating chapters, Jim tells his own story and Prometheus's story (complete with irritable spats between Hera and Zeus, and a whiny messenger Hermes). As to where and how the two stories will intersect, well, you'll have to wait and see. Side characters include a plucky young girl who works at the local inn, and an educated, unnamed writer who plays a part in the proceedings.
What makes this book a fun read is primarily Jim's smart-aleck tone, often conveyed in footnotes. For example:
"Look, please don't cry or sigh for this monstrous bird. And do not write letters complaining about cruelty to animals. First of all, this was an avenging devil—you wouldn't want to meet one of those in the bathroom, believe me. It was only taking the shape of a bird. And, anyway, you don't know what happened next—just wait and see." (Chapter 1)
Uncle Edward's manipulative charm is also quite entertaining. He repeatedly tricks people into believing what he wants them to believe, rather than what their own common sense has already told them. The bit part of the writer is also fun, but I won't spoil it for you by saying more.
The Fire Thief manages, while maintaining a sly sense of humor, to convey a bit of information about the Greek gods: the story of Prometheus's punishment and escape, the tale of Pandora's Box, and miscellaneous background information about Zeus, Hera and their various relatives. I think that this would make a nice companion read to go along with Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief (though The Fire Thief is a much easier read, with less complex characterization). There is a nice glossary at the end of the book that gives a bit more detail about the mythological background. All in all, I quite enjoyed this book, and read it very quickly.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.