Fireborn by Aisling Fowler
Harper Collins, hb, £10.29
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Twelve gave up her name and identity when she joined the Rangers after her family were killed, and for that, she received training in hunting and destroying monsters. But Twelve wants to kill more than just monsters with her new skills. She wants revenge on the Cave Clan who murdered her family, and she isn’t there to make friends keeping the other trainees at arm’s length.
When the monsters Twelve is learning to hunt, attack her new home and take another trainee, Seven, Twelve must learn that honouring the past should not jeopardise her future.
Fireborn is a middle-grade book about pre-teens in a fantasy world learning to protect the different clans from the monsters that roam their land. The monsters are all variations of familiar creatures from legend and mythology, and Twelve has access to a compendium of monster lore and facts. This shows her that not every non-human is dangerous. Some are friendly, and others are untrustworthy, but all require her full attention to navigate the situation.
As the main character, Twelve is both the protagonist and antagonist. Her behaviour puts her at odds with the other trainees. Even when they reach out to her, she is arrogant and cold, believing herself better than them, and seeing their need for friendship as a weakness. Twelve is also unreliable as the events around her family’s death are not as clear cut as it seems. She must accept her involvement in their demise for her character to develop. I won’t give any spoilers because I don’t want to ruin the story for you.
As you may know from reading my previous reviews, I’m not a big fan of stories that are mostly characters travelling from one place to another unless there is a very good reason for it. The obvious correlation between the main character’s physical and internal journey can feel clunky. However, Fireborn is not one of those. It is a tight story about moving on from the past, and the further Twelve moves from the protection of the Lodge, the more she learns. There are no unnecessary scenes, and every action adds to the overall story, no matter how small. And each of the supporting characters has their own motivations, which makes them fully realised individuals.
I have a soft spot for middle-grade books, and Fireborn ticks all the right boxes. The stakes are high but not too out of reach for the children to attain. All their skills and talents that help them survive are hard-won or latent abilities foreshadowed throughout, and should they survive, they will never be the same again. This would be great as a Christmas present for anyone with a middle-grade reader in their life or an adult with a passion for these books like me.