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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****The Tears of the Salamander

by Peter Dickinson

Reviewed December 20, 2003.
Wendy Lamb Books (Random House), New York, 2003.  197 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (J MCN F DIC).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #2, Children's Fantasy

There’s nothing typical about this fantasy book.  The Tears of the Salamander is captivating and magical, but not quite like any other book I’ve read.

Alfredo was given a gift on his seventh name-day from his Uncle Giorgio.  The gift is a golden salamander on a chain to wear around his neck.  He doesn’t learn the significance of the gift until later.

When Alfredo’s loving family is killed in a tragic fire, he goes to live with Uncle Giorgio.  There he learns the connection between his love of music and his understanding of fire.  He learns about the salamander Uncle Giorgio keeps and the miraculous healing properties of his tears.  He also learns that Uncle Giorgio may not be as good a man as he is pretending to be.

In this book we have a Sicilian family with a legacy as Masters of the Mountain.  They control the fires of Mount Etna.  Will they use their powers for good or for evil?

There’s something magical about music, anyway.  I like the way the magic in this book is musical, and how Alfredo uses the Psalms he learned in the Cathedral choir to sing out his emotions.  The story is about magic, but there’s also a mystery, as Alfredo figures out what his uncle is doing, and suspense as we wonder if Alfredo’s response will work.

This is a wonderfully written, outstanding book.  I’m listing it with children’s fiction, since Alfredo is still a boy, whose voice hasn’t changed yet.  However, its serious themes suggest that the cover listing of 10 and up is about right.  I’m definitely suggesting it to my 9-year-old, who likes fantasy fiction, but I think that teens and adults can also enjoy this original fantasy.

Reviews of other books by Peter Dickinson:
The Ropemaker
with Robin McKinley
Fire, with Robin McKinley

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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