The recent journey for the four Greencloaks — Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan — and their Spirit Animal counterparts has been costly, especially for Meilin, whose father was killed in the battle with the Devourer.
In previous adventures, the Devourer’s reach seemed to follow them everywhere — Shong, Trunswick and the Wilds of Amaya. In "Fire and Ice," they are now in the icy plains of Ardu, trying to find the crystal blue talisman and the giant bear Saka. The four know their mission is to protect the talismans even if they have to fight to the death.
Shannon Hale’s book, fourth in the planned seven-book multiauthor Spirit Animals series, adds markedly to the adventures of the Greencloaks and the Spirit Animals. Nuggets of backstory provide understanding of all four adventures; however, reading them in sequence is advised. For example, Rollan’s mother suddenly reappears in “Fire and Ice” and confirms the torment he has felt as an abandoned child in previous volumes.
The author’s depictions of human and animal characters are brilliantly sprinkled throughout “Fire and Ice.” She supports the animalistic qualities of each Spirit Animal through action and mood and defends the humans as real warriors, not merely cardboard characters that slash with weapons without remorse. These characters cry with pain and disappointment, mourn for deaths and celebrate achievements. The narrative is full of pithy, sometimes humorous dialogue that will intrigue young readers. There is no offensive language, and the fighting and battle scenes are age-appropriate.
Hale uses descriptions lavishly. For example, as the Greencloaks trudge across the stark icy plains there is “the hint of dawn bleeding yellow into the blue night.” The huge bear breaks out of the ice chamber, “ice cracking, the sound as high and piercing as the shriek of a kestrel.” And the animal’s voice “growls of winds, of ice thousands of years old … lonely as an ice mountain in the middle of a tundra, as careful as a snowflake falling.”
The final battle is harsh, but Hale does not back away from vivid actions that send the protagonists on to another adventure humble and unscathed.
The Spirit Animals series encourages readers to customize their own Spirit Animal online at spiritanimals.scholastic.com, which also provides discussion questions and further activities with the Greencloaks and the “Four Fallen” animals.
Previous books in the Spirit Animals series are “Wild Born” by Brandon Mull, "Hunted” by Maggie Stiefvater, and “Blood Ties” by Garth Nix and Sean Williams. The fifth book, “Against the Tide” by Tui T. Sutherland, is due out in October, and books six and seven are scheduled for April and October 2015, respectivel