I’ve just finished the third book in Chris d’Lacey’s six-book series. Since my son Al is reading them also (he introduced me to them), I plan to continue reading them. But I have to admit some disappointment with the way the series has changed from the first book to the third.
The Fire Within was delightful. The idea was original (Liz Pennykettle crafts clay dragons for sale, but it seems that they are more than just clay figurines), and the characters really came to life through d’Lacey’s writing. He didn’t just tell about them or how they felt, he used dialog and action to show just what they were like.
There’s David, the college student who knows there’s something strange in the Pennykettle household, but isn’t about to believe that the dragons are real. There’s Lucy, 11 years old and impetuous, endearing, passionate (especially about the backyard squirrels), and sometimes petulant. Then there’s Liz, Lucy’s mother and David’s landlady, trying to keep the truth about the dragons hidden from David until he is ready to accept it.
The dragons are also enchanting, each with its own personality. Liz makes a dragon for David, which he names Gadzooks. It is a special writing dragon, and it gives him inspiration for a story he writes for Lucy’s birthday, by sometimes writing a word on the writing pad it carries (David sees these words when he imagines Gadzooks writing them).
Mysteriously, the story David writes seems to also be happening in the real world. Does it happen because David writes it, or does David write it because Gadzooks somehow makes him able to know what is happening? When David doesn’t want to continue writing because he doesn’t like the direction the story is taking, what will happen to his connection with Gadzooks? It’s a story about friendship, magic, faith, and love – and writing. There’s also sadness in the book, but despite what I read in one review, I would not say it has an unhappy ending.
Icefire brings in more characters, from outside the Pennykettle household. There is Dr. Bergstrom, a visiting professor at David’s college, and Zanna, another student at college. Then there is the strange Aunty Gwyneth, who comes to stay with the Pennykettles and forces David to vacate his room and go live next door with Henry Bacon.
There is also something important about polar bears, who turn out to have a mysterious connection to dragons. Both Dr. Bergstrom and Aunty Gwyneth turn out to be something other than what they appear, and they are both in some way connected with the mystery surrounding both dragons and polar bears. Zanna also turns out to be far more than a strangely dressed college student (she likes the Goth look).
This book is less light-hearted than The Fire Within. In the first book, the conflicts were minor – between David and his doubts, between the Pennykettle household and their neighbor Henry Bacon, between Lucy’s desire to do things her way and her mother’s insistence on following certain rules, and between the squirrels and the things that endanger them.
Icefire raises the stakes considerably. Whatever Liz, Lucy, and David may disagree over, they are firmly together against the villain who enters their lives. But all of them together – plus Zanna – and their dragons, may not be a match for the evil powers they are fighting. Even Henry becomes their ally, though I found it unclear even at the end whether he understood what had been happening, and if he did not, why he was not more suspicious.
Fire Star turns decidedly dark, and rather strange. Zanna mysteriously disappears while she and David are studying in the Arctic. Then Lucy is kidnapped and disappears for months. David learns that this is all connected to the origins of the universe and the fate of the Earth and its inhabitants. There are aliens. Near the end of the novel, there is a whole new set of characters, monks who live in seclusion on an island monastery.
Having the story move back and forth between the Pennykettle home and the Arctic wasn’t too hard to follow. But suddenly jumping to the monks on their island made it seem somewhat disjointed. I rather liked some of the monks, but from there to the end, the other characters I had come to know and care about seemed to get little attention. Things happened to them, but it seemed rather rushed. It seemed that d’Lacey was simply telling a story, rather than making it unfold in front of me.
I don’t know if d’Lacey originally planned to end the series there, and was trying to wrap it up rather than taking the latter part of Fire Star and making it into a separate book (which might have worked better). I read previously that these three books were a trilogy, and at the time the third one was published that’s probably what everyone assumed (except perhaps d’Lacey). But he did go on writing, and I read that the fifth book is the best known.
Since the fourth book is in our local library, I suppose I’ll get it on Tuesday (the library is closed tomorrow and Monday). Since Al has read all of the Harry Potter books, I’m not worried about him reading a series that is too dark for him. But I do hope that perhaps some of the d’Lacey books I haven’t read yet have some of the whimsical nature that appealed to me so much in the first one I read.