Thursday, June 14, 2018

The last firehawk: The ember stone by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Jeremy Norton

There's a limited number of fantasy books for beginning chapter readers. Mostly they tend to involve fairies and lots of sparkly glitter. Epic fantasy, not so much. However, Scholastic's Branches imprint was extremely successful with their Dragon Masters series by Tracey West (I don't know about your library, but I had to buy multiple copies and referee fights over the remaining titles!) and apparently decided to branch out into an animal fantasy, a la Warriors, in this latest series The Last Firehawk.

The story begins with an introduction: The fantasy is set in the land of Perodia, where the Owls of Valor fight against the evil vulture, Thorn, who is using the Shadow to destroy the land. Tag, a young owl who is smaller than the others, tries hard to live up to his dream of being an Owl of Valor. Appropriately, a classic fantasy map is also included.

Tag and his friend Skyla, a squirrel, rescue a mysterious egg from the evil tiger-bats, servants of Thorn. When the egg hatches, they discover it contains a firehawk, long thought to be extinct. Once upon a time, the firehawks had magic that could defeat Thorn and his Shadow, but their magic was contained in a gem which has since disappeared. Tag, Skyla, and the firehawk, named Blaze, set out on a quest to find the magical jewel.

Digital black and white illustrations are on every page. Most of the animals look "normal", excepting the weird tiger-bats, but the owls wear armor, as does Skyla at times. Some of the art is blurred and the faces a little distorted. This is very classic animal fantasy; owls and squirrels are "good", vultures and bats are "bad". There is a magical map, legends, and a dangerous quest for a magical artifact. The hero (male of course) is the smallest and yearns to be part of a group of "knights" but ends up proving himself in a different way. However, just because it may seem old hat to a regular fantasy reader doesn't mean young readers new to the genre won't enjoy it. The story moves quickly and is written smoothly and briskly, with just enough peril to keep the story interesting. There are gentle lessons about working with your strengths, accepting the help of friends, and trying even when things seem hopeless.

Verdict: I think the art does the story a disservice; I don't expect it will be as popular as Dragon Masters because of the lack of art and human characters to relate to. However, it was a good story; even I want to find out what happens next! Recommended to add to your Branches collection.

ISBN: 9781338122138; Published September 2017 by Scholastic; Purchased for the library

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