Title: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 1st February 2020
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.
As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.
I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.
This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.
This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.