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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Firespell, Chloe Neill

Firespell by Chloe Neill
In Firespell, Chloe Neill expands on her take of underworld, paranormal Chicago (see the Chicagoland Vampires series). This time, Neill takes a foray into YA with the first book of her Dark Elite series, set in a Chicago boarding school where all is not as it seems.
Of course.

Lily Parker is ready to start her junior year of high school in Sagamore, New York, when her parents inform her that they are going on a research sabbatical in Germany for two years -- and sending her to an elite boarding school in Chicago for the remainder of high school. Lily is packed off and installed at St. Sophia's School for Girls, in a new big city where she doesn't know a soul. That is, until she meets Scout Green, her slightly odd suitemate, who is prone to sneaking off in the night and seems to be harboring a secret. A secret that has to do with whatever's in the basement of the school. A secret that is dangerous, maybe even deadly. A secret that suddenly seems to include Lily herself, in ways she never could have imagined.

What can I say about Firespell? It's not something that hasn't been done before; there are plenty of boarding school stories out there, and a good chunk of those stories have a magical slant with a new kid who finds herself in the middle of some magical feud, or the target of powerful mean girls, etc., etc., only to discover that she plays a bigger part in the battle than she thought. It's been done. And it will continue to be done, because for some unknown reason, we all seem enthralled by the idea, myself included. I mean, hell, I read all of the Gemma Doyle series, even though it's icky long and I didn't like it from page one.

Firespell may not have been anything unusual, but it was certainly fun. Lily was a fine lead, but her friend and suitemate, Scout, stole the show. Scout was fun and quirky, and yes, I may be a little biased because her dorm room is overflowing with books which are organized by color. If you've ever been in my room (you haven't, and you never will), you would know that this makes her a girl after my own ♥.
There was a bit of a mystery to the mystery. You know what I mean, right? You know something's coming, and you think you've got it pegged down, but there is a little doubt in your head. It was like that. It didn't go quite where I expected it. And Neill gave herself plenty of room to grow in the series. We get hints of other characters, but she judiciously avoided giving everything away in book one, so we'll get to explore them further as the series goes on, which is a good thing. A couple of them are swoon-worthy boys, if you're into that kind of thing. (You know you are; stop blushing.)

There were some drawbacks, of course, aside from the somewhat cookie-cutter, slightly melodramatic plot, and these things were just sort of pet-peevish for me. Those of you familiar with Neill's adult Chicagoland Vampires series will know that there's a very collegiate, sorority/fraternity feel to it, with the different vampire sects being divided into 'houses' (think grown up Gryffindor), with house colors and coats of arms, and such. Firespell has a very similar feel, which is to be expected, as it is set in a school. I didn't have a problem with that, as such, though it makes me wonder if she's limited in her scope. What did bother me was the classification of the different magical beings in the book as JV and Varsity -- and then the continual repetition of these terms. Now, it's one thing to make an off-handed reference, but it just seems a little silly and thin when it becomes an actual element in the story. I'm not sure how to explain this without giving something away, but I just felt it was weak, and more so, irritating.
Along the same lines, Neill seems to get stuck in these random patterns of weird word repetition, and it throws off the story. Now, this isn't a huge issue, and some people won't even notice it, but it's a pet peeve of mine because I believe that authors have a responsibility to put such insane amounts of thought into their work that they eliminate these little nuisances that break the reader out of the flow of the story. And after being a writing tutor for 5 years, these things jump out at me, and I can just feel them there, lurking, trying to drive me insane. I'm just saying.
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve, though, is that Neill tries too hard at witty banter. She is funny, and when it works, it works. But she forces it too often, and sometimes, whether it's funny or not, it just makes the dialogue seem fake and the characters less believable. She needs to trust herself more to carry the story without one liners. Or to learn that not every person in this world is the one-liner type, so not every character should be, either. With a little more attention to natural sounding dialogue and character thoughts, I wouldn't have that much to complain about in Neill's writing.
None of these drawbacks, however, would keep me from recommending this book. They aren't constant, they just crop up occasionally throughout, and they don't outweigh the book as a fun, fast, light read.

So yes, Firespell has been done before. And it's fairly easy to see where it's going; nothing ever really came as a shock, and I doubt anything will as the series goes on. It may lean suspiciously towards the melodramatic, and it may have it's flaws in the style of the writing. That being said, it's still a fun read, and if you have to read one boarding school, supernatural story, why not make it this one?

ps. I adore the cover.


Visit Chloe Neill's site where you can get info on her books and extras like music playlists, buttons, banners and backgrounds, and the inside scoop on her series'. You can also buy some pretty awesome book-related swag.

Learn some fire spells of your very own at Spells of Magic (dot com). I just had to include this, it tickled me so.

Check out these other books set at boarding schools:
A Separate Peace
A Great and Terrible Beauty (et al)
Looking for Alaska
A Little Princess
Jane Eyre
Never Let Me Go
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You
A School for Sorcery
Dead Poets Society
What I Was
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I just realized that Firespell is Feb's book for Blog with Bite, so I thought I'd go ahead and a little update with the answers to their discussion questions and what not. Here goes:

1. Lily and Jason. Discuss. What do you think the next book holds for them?
I think it's pretty clear that they are going to end up together, but I am sure there will be trials. Someone's not going to trust the other, Jason's going to feel he's too dangerous, etc. Something will get in their way. But like all good (used loosely) ya, they have to have angst, and they have to get over it and come together.

2. Lily & Scout's friendship had a lot of secrets, so in the end who did you relate to more, Lily or Scout? How about Lesley or Veronica? Would you hang with the brat pack or be a loner?
Alright, don't get me wrong. I like Lily. She's the protagonist, and I'm supposed to. But I looove Scout. And I am completely biased, and I'll tell you why (in fact, I already have): she organizes her books by color. Hello? Sound familiar anyone? (if not, where have you been? Take a look at the green shelf, the purple shelf and stay tuned for future pics of the shelves, once I get around to making them presentable and picture worthy). Also, Scout's just fun. We have similar senses of humor, and I wanted to see how she got sucked into all this. And I know she's got Lily's back, even on the slight acquaintance they have.
Definitely not a brat packer. Though I suspect there's more to Veronica.

3. What do think of the overwhelming trend in YA literature where the parents of the protagonists are either- dead, strung out or shipping their children off to boarding schools? Do you think this is a real look at parents today and what teens are dealing with?
We talk about this in my book club all the time. A few of the members are YA librarians, so they read a lot of it, and certainly it is prevalent. We came to the conclusion that it is a mostly necessary devise. Think about it. If your characters are teens, and many of your readers are teens, the idea of being alone and going through things is going to be a familiar one. Even if you're not alone in the world, it sometimes feels that way. It's a great way to jump-start the whole "coming of age" thing. Also, as a writer, you need to be able to put your characters in situations that they may not be able to get into with watchful parents, so it's necessary from that aspect, too. And there is an added element of suspense and tension, and a little bit of danger, to know that these kids are basically on their own, about to do something heroic/crazy/drastic, and then a big pay-off when they come through it.

4. Follow up to parental question. Authors employ the missing parents to mature their teenage protagonist. The protagonist doesn't have the option to act as an irresponsible teen, because they do not have any parental supervision. Did you find Lily's behaviour normal for a teenager, or more mature than most?
She is a bit more mature, but:
1) I don't think we give teens enough credit, for mature thinking if not mature actions. They are, after all, the ones reading these, and if the protagonists were too mature, it would feel off to them and fail.
2) Lily's at the right age to start wising up and being mature, and there's no indication that she was ever all that immature.
3) Her maturity isn't out of the realm of reality by any means. She still does some reckless immature things, all told. She never would have got herself snared in all of this drama if she hadn't...

This review is part of:


  1. I sooo want to read this book! I have only read Some Girls Bite by Neill, but I loved it! I want to continue the series, and read her YA series too.
    It's a shame you had some small issues with it. Doesn't put me off though, I am so excited for this book! Thank you for the thorough review! :)

  2. The issues shouldn't putt you off, Jo. I don't intend them to. Merely a warning that it's not perfect, or even that unusual, but still fun. Hope you like it. :)

  3. Great review. You were spot on with your points - both positive and negative. Thanks!


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