Published: 5th January 2010
Genre: Supernatural, YA
Recommended Reading Age: 16+
As the new girl at the elite St. Sophia’s boarding school, Lily Parker thinks her classmates are the most monstrous things she’ll have to face…
When Lily’s guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia’s. Lily’s ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke, and on top of that, she’s hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building.
The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, but even Scout’s a little weird—she keeps disappearing late at night and won’t tell Lily where she’s been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster.
Firespell is a slow book. Too slow. I quite enjoyed it once the story finally picked up, the problem is, it takes roughly two thirds of the book to get there.
Firespell is your standard supernatural boarding school story. Our protagonist is the new girl who feels completely out of place among her new privileged, elite school chums. Her roommate, and consequently new best friend, is a little quirky, making her both an outcast, and a target of the ‘brat pack’. Three stereotypical, ‘mean girls’ who suffer from the usual lack of depth and provide absolutely nothing to the plot, but somehow these types of girls seem to have become requisite for any fictional high school. Of course, not everything is as it seems and soon Lily, curious to know where her friend is sneaking of to at night, decides to follow her. Armed with a foam flip-flop. (In these types of situations I always find it best to wear shoes that offer no protection, are difficult to run in and are possibly the loudest footwear ever invented.)
Chicago setting? An old, gothic boarding school? Catacombs with secret doorways? Mysterious comings and goings? Something going on beneath the school? And yet somehow, Firespell manages to lack any sense of atmosphere or danger. Nothing makes these characters stand out from other books. Neill tires hard to make Lily sound witty and edgy but her dialogue and narration felt clunky to me. The author also fails to create a convincing school environment. Other than six students (four of whom we only really briefly see), the other girls at St Sophia’s aren’t mentioned. There’s none of the chaos, noise or energy of a real high school (even a posh one).
For all its faults, however, Firespell is not a frustrating read. There’s barely any cattiness or spiteful teenage melodrama that you so often have with characters like Veronica, nor at any point does anyone accuse another girl of being a slut (something that makes me angry in both real life and fiction). There’s also none of the ‘epic insta-love’ you so often find in these types of books, and I enjoyed the easy flirtation between several of the characters.
Overall its fair to say Firespell left me with mixed feelings. I would be interested in reading the second book if the plot picks up. I’m definitely intrigued enough to want to know more about Sebastian and the Reapers, who could potentially become very creepy adversaries. Firespell, with its plodding pace, and very little action, definitely feels like a set up for the rest of the series, and I wish Neill had got there quicker.
A fairly enjoyable read, with the potential for more. I’d say Firespell would probably suit younger readers better and fans of the supernatural YA might want to give this a go, but so far, there’s not much to set this series apart from all the others out there.