Review of ‘The Fire Star’
Title: The Fire Star
Author + Illustrator: A.L. Tait
Age Range: 10+, upper primary, middle grade.
Themes: medieval history, mystery, knights, maids, friendship, belonging, education of girls and women, secret societies.
Teachers’ Notes: The Fire Star Teachers’ Resources
Book Club Questions: The Fire Star Book Club Notes
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A mystery, an adventure, a secret society and an unlikely friendship between a maid and squire… ‘The Fire Star: A Maven & Reeve Mystery’ by A.L. Tait has it all (including a gorgeous beech tree which I’d rather like to live inside).
The 15 year old narrators of ‘The Fire Star’ are Maven and Reeve, a maid and a squire. Lady Cassandra and Sir Garrick are to be married in the medieval kingdom of Cartreff and Maven and Reeve Three days before this strategically arranged marriage have barely met when The Fire Star – a much desired and precious gem- is stolen under mysterious circumstances. The Kingdom of Cartreff is in turmoil and Maven and Reeve have just three days to solve the mystery before they lost everything, including their freedom.
…the whole notion of chivalry bores me. What is the point of taking part in a charade when there are real conversations to be had?Maven speaking to Reeve, page 62, The Fire Star
‘The Fire Star’
Aside from reading ‘The Fire Star’ for pure enjoyment, there is also a whole other (quite beautiful) layer to this story to be discovered. The secret society of The Beech Circle is made up of self-educated women who are bound to help girls and women – it is a really interesting concept to inject into a story set in a time where women were not allowed to be educated or meaningfully engage in society.
The scenes set in and around the beech tree and Beech Circle are atmospheric and full of subtle parallels to today’s society, without whacking astute teen readers over the head with ‘life lessons’. The Beech Circle support Maven in her quest while Reeve is both intrigued and bemused by these curiously intelligent women, having grown up in a time where he was told that women who could read were witches.
‘But you are not witches?’ he asks, uneasily.page 154, The Fire Star
Myra laughs, and I join in.
‘No,’ she says. ‘Not unless witches are just women who choose to ask questions.’
Finally? There is the food. Can we just take a moment to pause and give thanks for writers who take the time to carefully select food for their characters to indulge in? I love a book which allows me to ‘taste’ the story and setting through well placed descriptions of food. ‘The Fire Star’ has roast boar, stews, ale poured from silver jugs into tankards, 15 course feasts eaten off solid gold plates and honey cakes – which have a crisp outer layer and fluffy interior. Just reading this aren’t you transported to a banquet in a castle and isn’t your mouth watering?
I am often asked for ideas for class read alouds or novel studies and ‘The Fire Star’ is certainly one I will be recommending for use in Years 5-7 (age range dependent on use – read aloud, extension, support, book club or in-depth novel study).
The dual narrative is perfect for academic study and Tait has also played with perspective and tense within this. The depth and complexity of relationships between characters would be interesting to delve into and there is a balance of male/female protagonists and mix of ages amongst the characters of Maven, Reeve, Lady Cassandra, Sir Garrick, Airl Buckthorn, Lady Anice, Kit, Myra, Polly, Derric, Cook, Lorimer and Sully. We teachers do love a good discussion about setting (!) and A.L. Tait is a master of world building. The Middle Ages setting of Carreff is vivid and easily imagined and recreated in the classroom setting – for starters I’d love a beech tree in my library, perhaps with a few castles in the background…