Matt Ralphs, Fire Girl

Macmillan, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4472-8355-3

Fire Girl tells the story of Hazel, daughter of a powerful witch who has kept her secluded from the real world as protection against witch hunters and dark magic. In the aftermath of the Witch Wars, with Cromwell as ruler, to be a witch is to be demonised and at risk of death, so when her mother is kidnapped, Hazel is determined to rescue her. To her surprise, she discovers that she herself has magical powers, powers that at first she struggles to control, as fire blazes from her fingertips. She is surprised too to find that she has a witch's familiar, and unimpressed that it's a very grumpy dormouse. The two of them argue constantly about appropriate action, Hazel impetuous and brave, Bramley logical and risk-averse. They meet terrifying dangers in their search for Hazel's mother.

This is an extremely impressive debut novel. An imaginative and clever combination of alternative history and magical fantasy, it's a compelling page-turner that explores big themes: intolerance and bigotry, love, loyalty and betrayal. Hazel is a very convincing character. Her mix of courage and self-doubt rings very true. Bramley is a delightful creation, who adds lots of unexpected humour to the book. Fire Girl will appeal very widely, not just to lovers of fantasy, and those who read it will be very pleased that a sequel, Fire Witch, is due out next year. Highly recommended.