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Ember Spark and the Thunder of Dragons

Authored by Abi Elphinstone
Illustrated by Kristina Kister
Published by Simon & Schuster Ltd

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Abi Elphinstone’s Ember Spark and the Thunder of Dragons marks the start of an entertaining new magical adventure series. Ten-year-old Ember and her classmate Arno are recruited by their teacher, Mrs Rickety-Knees, as apprentice vets to Rusty Fizzbang, who tends to an array of magical creatures in his secret cave under Stonechatter Castle. After cleaning dragon teeth and changing dragon nappies, Ember and Arno find themselves rescuing a baby unicorn and then travelling to Loch Ness in a flying bathtub in an attempt to save baby dragon Smidge from dying of a broken heart by reuniting her with one of her parents. At the same time, they must evade the evil clutches of Jasper Hornswoggle who is determined to capture as many magical creatures as possible.

As the above synopsis indicates, this story has a thrilling plot brimming with magic, humour and some moments of real jeopardy. Elphinstone’s writing style is engaging, and often enjoyably knowing (the novel begins ‘The thing about magic is that it’s terribly clever, and the thing about grown-ups is that they very often aren’t’; a couple of chapters later, the narrator remarks that ‘adventures have no respect for bedtimes.’) There are some excellent gags along the way but also real depth in Ember’s characterisation, particularly the impact of her parents’ separation: her reflection that ‘the heartbreak she’d felt at [her father’s] leaving had led her to the miserable conclusion that there was no point having friends in case they upped and left too’ feels poignantly believable. Ember is initially reluctant to collaborate with Arno (who faces his own challenges with some fairly unpleasant school bullies), but ultimately learns to trust him as she comes to recognise that ‘adventures are a hundred times better when shared’. 

The combination of magic and animals will make this a popular choice with many Year 4 and Year 5 readers, and it feels like it would be an ideal stepping stone between Liz Flanagan’s Wildsmith series and Katherine Rundell’s Impossible Creatures.