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Books for reluctant readers: Review of The Fire Star by AL Tait

Books for reluctant readers: Review of The Fire Star by AL Tait

Harry Potter is surely feeling a little tired by now. He and his mates have been casting spells for longer than most middle schoolers have been alive. It’s time for a new kid book obsession and I reckon AL Tait’s new Maven & Reeve series might just be it. The first book in the series is The Fire Star, out today.

The reason I’m making such a bold claim for Maven & Reeve, is that AL Tait is equally as good at penning place, character and action as JK Rowling. She proved it with her first two series for middle schoolers – The Mapmaker Chronicles (a four book series) and the Ateban Cipher (two books). Both have complex, inviting characters who young readers want to head off with on intriguing, enviable adventures in the vaguely-historical, utterly marvellous settings that Tait has imagined.

The Fire Star is out now

Compelling characters are an AL Tait special

Her latest book, The Fire Star introduces us to Maven, a servant girl forced to hide her intelligence under the cloak of a lifetime of servitude. Part of the story is told from Maven’s first-person account and she’s a lively, witty narrator. I’d quite like to be her friend myself, but I reckon I’d be too intimidated by her! She’s a real wonder.

I’d quite like to be her friend myself, but I reckon I’d be too intimidated by her! She’s a real wonder.

Maven is thrown together with Reeve, a squeamish squire who dreams of being a knight but worries he won’t be able to hide his inconvenient fear of blood. He’s a good looking kid, the kind of boy that everyone in year 7 wants to pick for group project work until he fails to do very much at all. Reeve’s part of the narrative is told in the third-person, and in that regard it’s Maven who truly owns the story.

The swapping of narrator perspective is a stylistic tool that readers of adult detective or family genres will be familiar with, but it may be a new and somewhat challenging concept for middle school readers. The kids will soon settle in, however, as the story charges along, pulling them deeper and deeper into the fascinating vaguely-Middle Ages tale, with many a twist in the telling.

More good reads: Malamander or The Skeleton Tree or The Hate U Give

Friendship themes enhance the story

Maven and Reeve have only three days to solve the mystery of the theft of the Fire Star, a mysterious gem that just might hold the key to freedom — both their own and other key characters’. This mismatched pair add an ‘odd couple’ humour to the seriousness of this quest. They get each other in and out of scrapes, but work together to tie the pieces of this mystery together, something the reader is also encouraged to work out with clever clues left by Tait along the way.

It unfolds with some comforting friend lessons for young readers, who no doubt are constantly navigating the ups and downs of their own friendships.

The developing friendship between the two main characters is a beautiful thing to read. It unfolds with some comforting lessons for young readers, who no doubt are constantly navigating the ups and downs of their own friendships. Supporting characters in the book (all penned in vivid detail by Tait, who really does excel at creating memorable characters) help bring Reeve and Maven together.

The non-stop action plot also helps to keep them busy and on-track. There’s just no stopping for these two and our young readers won’t want to stop either. Note: this isn’t the book you want them to start reading right before bedtime! It will be torches under the quilt at midnight, I guarantee.

The Fire Star review

Strong female characters balance the historical setting

One last thing to mention without giving away the entire story. The tale also features the Beech Circle, a secret network of self-educated women who are dedicated to helping all girls and women defy societal limits. They are important, not just because they aid Maven in her quest, but also because they remind the reader of both her determination, and her vulnerability in a society that isn’t yet ready for a such a curious, intelligent girl. The society of women are a fantastic character device to allow Tait to keep The Fire Star as both a ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ story, with strong, relatable characters of both genders featured. The society also gives the reader a hope for servant Maven and would-be knight Reeve’s futures, that might otherwise have been missing in their otherwise very gendered society. 

More reads like this: 5 books ‘for girls’ that boys might like

So, big themes, memorable characters, twisty plot and a vivid sense of place all bring to mind a new kind of Potter. I don’t want to spoil the book by mentioning sorcery, but… oops, there I go.

Gift a copy of The Fire Star to the young readers in your life (or even the reluctant readers – this is the kind of book that will soon reel them in). Or buy a copy for yourself. Promise that like me, you won’t be able to put it down either. I’m itching for the next book and luckily AL Tait is already working on it.

Buy it at Booktopia on sale for $15.25.


Ages 12- adult

Reminds me of:

Harry Potter series for characterisation

Rangers’ Apprentice series for action

John Green novels for nailing adolescent angst

Things to note:

The dual-person narrative which swaps between first and third person may be tricky for earlier readers

AL Tait writes smart stories that will challenge Wimpy Kid / Treehouse fans but they are ready for books like The Fire Star so help them persevere.

Fun Fact:

AL Tait is the pseudonym of my very own sister! I have been as unbiased as I can be, but I’ve long been a genuine fan of all of my sister’s books, so I can’t help gushing. Actually, most of my sister’s books and definitely all of her book for young readers. She once wrote a book about paying off your credit card that literally bored me to sleep!!! (You may, however, find it very useful if you have massive credit card debt.)

Read anything good lately? Loads more book reviews here.

Quote image courtesy of AL Tait; all other images by the author