Kelly Gardiner, Phoenix (Fire Watcher #2), Scholastic Australia, February 2020, 272 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781742994284
Phoenix is the second book in Kelly Gardiner’s Fire Watcher Chronicles. I haven’t read the first one, so that Gardiner has provided a summary of book one in this title to set the scene for new readers helped tremendously.
Phoenix drops readers into Christopher’s life post his mum’s and his own reunion with his Dad (at the end of book 1) who has been away at war fighting the Germans in France. For a little bit, while World War 2 rages outside in London, Kit (AKA Christopher) and his mother enjoy having his Dad back home when they thought he was dead.
Very quickly it becomes apparent that his father expected life to have stood still in his absence, and instead returns home to find his wife has joined London’s firefighters as a driver, and has got Kit a job a spot with the firewatchers – those people who watch for the bombers descending on London in May 1941.
Gardiner sets the scene for Kit’s life during this time – glad for his father’s return, but mourning those people he knows who have died in the war. Kit is still a young boy and going through much that contemporary young readers might not have experienced, but who can come to understand Kit’s journey.
While out with his friends, he finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer that transports him to the ninth century to meet Vikings ready to storm Lundenwic (London, or at least part of it). The pendant takes him back and forth with the past and his present, fighting to save London from the Vikings, while in 1941 he’s doing his part to save London from the German bombers. On his second trip to the past he meets a girl called Elda, who is keeping the Vikings at bay from Lundenwic with her clever planning.
Gardiner infuses this story with humour, while teaching readers about history by dropping them into the middle of conflicts with Kit. Kit is utterly charming, and the humour that flows from him even during tense scenes is effortless – I really admired Gardiner’s skill with that. I also enjoyed that Gardiner wove a tale that tells readers about the women in history they would not normally necessarily know and that Kit has no qualms accepting these women in the roles that Gardiner has cast them.
There are elements of this book that need some knowledge of book 1, and I found myself wondering about book one a little. I don’t think it detracts from this story, but I think it would make for an exciting read as well.
Reviewed by Verushka Byrow