FIRE GIRL by Matt Ralphs

Moontrug first heard about Matt Ralphs’ debut for 9+ years, FIRE GIRL, through superstar Waterstones bookseller, Jo. She said: ‘It’s fast-paced, with a feisty heroine and a dark streak. I think you’ll really like it.’ And she was right…

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Twelve-year-old Hazel Hooper has spent her whole life trapped in a magical Glade created by her mother, Hecate. She’s desperate to meet new people and find out about the world. And, more than anything, she wants to be a witch. But when her mother is kidnapped by a demon – everything changes… Suddenly Hazel is alone in the world. Well . . . not quite alone. For it turns out that Hazel does have magic – she’s just not very good at controlling it. And she may have accidentally created a grumpy familiar in the form of a dormouse called Bramley. Determined to rescue her mother, the young witch and her mouse set out to track down the demon and find Hecate. However, it turns out that life outside the Glade is far more dangerous than Hazel ever could have imagined. Witch Hunters are everywhere – and the witches are using demons to fight back! Luckily for Hazel she manages to enlist the help of a handsome boy called David, and his drunken master, Titus White, who are expert demon hunters. And witch finders . . .

 

Right from the first sentence: ‘Mary Applegate awoke with a lump of fear lodged in her throat’ we realise Ralphs is hurling us into a world full of tension and danger. The Prologue comes complete with owl screech, whispering trees and old bones stirring in the night – a suitably eerie platform to launch the dramatic action that follows. By Chapter 2, Hazel’s mother has been stolen and we are set to encounter demon grinders, Wielders, Bladecatchers and Gullahtooths. Ralphs’ England is one where witches and their familiars (think odious spiders loaded with silver venom) lurk and Witch Hunters are out to kill…

Watch the FIRE GIRL trailer here

The action scenes are brilliantly described, and often genuinely frightening, especially when demon Rawhead is involved: ‘Clammy, long-fingered claws closed around Hazel’s neck, shoving her back against the wagon and cutting off her breath. She stared past rows of teeth into the ridged flesh on the roof of Rawhead’s mouth’. And Witch Hunter Titus White, with his blunderbuss, wagon and unpredictable sidekick apprentice are fabulous additions harking back to classic children’s adventure books. But in amongst the drama there are moments of real beauty as Ralphs describes the countryside setting: ‘Wychwood shimmered in the sun, rolling and swaying like an ocean. Leaves hissed like waves on shingle, branches creaked like masts.’

Perhaps one of the things Moontrug liked most about the book though was Hazel’s relationship with her dormouse familiar, Bramley. Stubborn and grumpy but with a heart of gold and unparalleled courage (especially as the plot reaches its climax), Bramley is a fantastic character. He adds a welcome touch of humour to the plot: ‘Now, I’m going to make a nest in your hair’ and from the tangle of Hazel’s red curls he offers some of the best one liners in the book: ‘I hope there’ll be apples there.’ Hazel is a dynamic main character – impetuous, loyal and brave – and Ralphs perfectly captures her progression from sheltered daughter to practising fire witch: ‘That’s right, witch-child, burn it all down.’ Fire Girl is a tremendous adventure of a book, full of nail-biting moments and packed with memorable characters, and Moontrug can’t wait for the sequel…

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