July 24, 2008


The Fire Eternal. By Chris D’Lacey. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. By James Luceno. Lucas Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

      There are dragons in the Arctic, and the bears are starving, and ecological changes are bringing with them a rise in magic from beneath the Earth. This is the setting for The Fire Eternal, Chris D’Lacey’s followup to The Fire Within, Icefire and Fire Star, a trilogy that now has a fourth book and seems certain to spawn more in the future. The focus this time is on Alexa Rain, daughter of novelist David Rain, who disappeared mysteriously in the Arctic five years before the start of the new novel. Alexa may be the only being standing between Earth and the increasingly angry spirit Gaia, a goddess rapidly losing patience with the changes on the surface of the world. This is a book filled with implications, where even small events are subject to multiple interpretations – the most otherworldly usually being the correct one: “When the winter wind had blown and the chimes had responded, the door in the rockery had opened for a second. And it might have been the pressure of the wind that had moved it. But that would not explain the faint crack of light behind it. Or that unmistakable hazy ripple, characteristic of a shift in the fabric of the universe.” There is treachery here, and there are otherworldly beings assuming (or forced to assume) the shapes of various animals or part-animals, and the souls of Inuit dead are haunting the northern skies. Understanding what is going on in The Fire Eternal, and why, requires some knowledge of the previous books in this series – D’Lacey makes at best a passing attempt to explain the story so far to new readers. And the many characters, human and otherwise, can be confusing, as can a world in which magic is pervasive but characters say such things as, “He’s gonna die – in my foyer! I’m definitely calling the police.” Still, existing fans of this series will enjoy its continued expansion into new realms, with new alliances and new sets of opponents arrayed against each other. At the heart of the book and the series as a whole is this comment, made here of dragons but applicable to other beings as well: “‘Are they spirits?’ ‘Sometimes.’”

      It is screen magic rather than verbal magic that drives the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but fans of the film who do want to read what happens can now get the tale in the form of a novel by James Luceno, based on the story by George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson and the screenplay by David Koepp. This is really a post-film souvenir book, complete with stills from the movie; it is hard to imagine anyone reading the novel who hasn’t seen the film already. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the book actually makes it possible to think through some of the plot points that the movie rushes past so quickly that they almost become invisible. The film is a special-effects spectacular, after all – more so than the earlier Indiana Jones films, which were more character-driven despite all their action. The book takes a little time (although only a little) to try to get inside the characters’ heads: “Indy was more affected by his intimate contact with the crystal skull than he let on. …He had seen many amazing things in his lifetime, but he had always considered himself to be as much a scientist as an adventurer, and he had constructed complex rationalizations to explain each mystery. But his stance had softened somewhat over the course of the past fifteen years.” Despite the spells of what passes for thoughtfulness, though, readers of this novelization will surely want to recall the film’s many action sequences, and Luceno delivers those quite well, albeit inevitably without the punch of the movie itself. Yet purchasers of the book may not care: as they read the words, they will undoubtedly be recalling the pictures they have already seen.

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