Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson.
G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group: NY, 2009.

Fire is the second of this elemental series; the first was Water. McKinley and Dickinson are a husband and wife team, both having received awards on their own, both excellent storytellers. McKinley's forte is in the retelling of folk tales (such as Beauty, The Outlaws of Sherwood, and Spindle's End, though she also received a Newbery for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Dickinson writes fantasy with a strong sense of the historical, tending towards ancient history. The Ropemaker and A Bone from a Dry Sea are books I've read of his (He has written close to fifty. As he is British, his books are harder to come by here.).

Spirits closely related to fire would be the phoenix, hellhounds, and dragons. It's no surprise the first story incorporates the phoenix. The connection of the phoenix and the lifespan of individuals is the crux, with a forest caretaker keeping the phoenix as a companion (it cannot be called a pet with its nobility). I love their relationship, the details of the phoenix's routines, and the old retainer's life. In the second story, a hellhound is adopted as a pet, but uniquely it is fighting evil in the area. The setting is a horse stable with a young girl responsible for caring for horses and giving riding classes. I enjoyed her character and that of the hellhound the most. The third story was not as appealing to me. It seemed to me to be how a tribal community might have reacted to dragons attracted to their fires. What I like about the story is that the main character wasn't so sure it was necessary or good to destroy the nest of dragons. That was different. What I didn't like was that he went ahead and played a major part in destroying them anyway. The Salamander Man has creatures less traditionally linked to fire. But the man himself becomes full of fire when the salamanders combine their power. This is an interesting story, with wizards mostly as the bad guys. Too much power for anyone to hold, so the salamanders need to go back to their origination. The last is a dragon and dragonrider story with a young fellow training unofficially to be a healing wizard. Wizards are the 3rd rung on the ladder of respect. Though the boy has great potential, he hides because of the lack of respect. The dragonrider academy provides an opportunity for him to attract attention and gain respect for the healing profession. This is the longest and best of the stories. I would like to see it expanded into a novel. It felt like the story could have been extended so much farther.

related-mythical animals, short stories, phoenix, hellhounds, dragons, dragonriders, horses

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