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The Fire Opal by Regina McBride
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The Fire Opal

by Regina McBride

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Reviewed by Ashley B for TeensReadToo.com

Maeve O'Tullagh is a teen living in Ard Macha with her family: Mam, Da, Donal, Fingal, and Ishleen. When still very young, Ishleen suddenly dies, depressing Maeve's mother and father. Once becoming pregnant again, Mam insists that she is pregnant with Ishleen, and she won't let the idea go. A woman at the sea gives Maeve a talisman to protect her mother. But when Mam removes it on the night of the baby's birth, she seems lost and catatonic. Maeve believes something stole her mother's soul and dedicates herself to protecting her new sister.

When Ishleen is four, she suffers the same fate as her Mam. With her Da and brothers off fighting to free Ireland from English rule, nineteen-year-old Maeve embarks on a journey to discover who has stolen their souls and save them before it's too late, encountering an ancient evil along the way.

This story was filled with magical beings and inanimate objects, and a family that thinks the mother and daughter are absolutely mad. At times, I was agreeing with the men of the family. In some parts, some very crazy stuff was happening, and I almost felt like Maeve was on an acid-trip or something. Seriously! It was nuts, but it was interesting!

The climax of the novel began in one of the last few chapters. This caused the novel to drag on for quite a long time, and it seemed to me that there were many insignificant pieces to the storyline. Also, the ending was very abrupt, which bothers me. It was left for me to wonder what happened to Francisco, a Spanish soldier, and also for Maeve's father and brothers. But really, this novel was interesting, and not really the kind of book I normally read, but it kept me interested, even if I got bored in some places. If you're into the fantasy kind of book, you might like it. ( )
  GeniusJen | Sep 29, 2010 |
The writing's not bad, but it's full of horrible details. The Celtic setting is twisted into something totally different. Reminds me of the octopus guy in Pirates of the Caribbean. I almost didn't finish reading this one. ( )
  booklady9 | Jul 15, 2010 |
When Maeve was a young child she found a large metal stick-like object embellished with a face with it a large jewel. The rod was engraved with word: THE ANSWERER. With the rain storm coming in and her fear that Maeve’s older twin brothers will damage it, she buried it. But that night Maeve came down with a high-fever and when the fever broke, she suffered a slight amnesia and had forgotten about the rod she buried.

Seven years later her mother begins to show signs of madness of hearing swans after the death of Maeve’s younger sister Ishleen the previous year. She announces to the family that she is pregnant again and Ishleen has come back.

One day Maeve and her old brothers caught Tom, a menace of a child who was graced with good looks, shooting at birds with his slingshot and knocking hatchling off ledges. In a faraway remorse Maeve didn’t notice the lady with down falling from her sleeves until she tapped her on the shoulder. She offers Maeve two bottles that appears to enclose fire sealed with the 3 twisted spirals: one for Maeve and the other for her Mam as a protection. Just minutes later Tom pops up from no where and knocks the bottle for Mam out of Maeve’s hand. Maeve then gives Mam her bottle instead.

With the “reincarnation” of Ishleen, the fire bottle is transferred to her yet on the same day Mam loses her soul leaving her body vacant. Forced to take care of the newborn and Mam at the age of 15 (or 16?) Maeve struggles to retain her sense of sanity from the viewpoint of the other villagers. But the English are coming. And then the Spaniards are coming to defend Ireland.

Yet hope begins to fade when Maeve’s brothers and Da joins the rebellion and Ishleen’s soul has been taken away. Tom, however, is in the background having come back to their home, Ard Macha, with wealth after being sent away years ago. Maeve goes on her own odyssey to find their souls while escaping Tom’s obsession. The goddess Danu and the swan-shifting woman who gave Maeve the bottles will guide her on her journey.

In this almost cross between a myth and folklore, Regina McBridge will incorporate magic realism and bend time. Flashbacks and premonitions, shapeshifters of all kinds (vultures, chimeras, swans, mermaids, etc.), a battle with a valkyrie, and blue fire when breathed in can create hallucinations of a lush forest seems to weave endless until the reader begins to be unsure of what is real and what is not anymore, just as what Maeve feels in her journey of self-identity and savior. I felt like an invader on this novel, there was just something so intimate that created this free-falling floating sensation.

Yet time is also an opponent for the reader. The first half was heavy, sluggish, dragging and in comparison made the second half seem too fast. I read the last two parts (out of four) with ease, with a calm swiftness that I did not mind the ticking of the clock because it seemed worthwhile. The first half seem as though I made no progress with what I had hoped to be the real focal point.

Despite this I would actually recommend this book. To me I believe that this book would be great for reading to a younger group of children. It is action packed with a moral lesson, filled with imagery and wild creatures delightful to the creative mind. While it may or may not be the perfect bedtime read, it would be great for a teacher (librarian or assistant) to read (in a circle) to a small group of 10 year old children (and maybe try to work in some motifs and symbolism). And hey, The Fire Opal is great at history too.

The ending, to me, is unsatisfactory. I am someone who demands the whole ending especially with epilogues. Did the brothers and father ever return (though it may appear so) and whatever happen to Francisco, the Spaniard soldier that Maeve recurred? In a chilling voice, one might say that she may never know, but will the heart will continue to live on.

The Fire Opal is a combination of history, folklore, fantasy, and adventure (with a speckle of romance) that will resonant better with a younger audience, but that does not mean young adults and adults will not find contentment with this novel. ( )
  ylin.0621 | May 19, 2010 |
As an Irish girl I will admit to being somewhat biased coming into this book. With scenery like the brilliant Irish landscapes, laid out for readers to picture while experiencing the journey that was The Fire Opal, what can you expect? I was already half in love with the story before finishing the first chapter.

McBride gives her readers magic, mythology/folklore and realism all wrapped up neatly in her debut YA novel. She has made the cross from writing adult fiction to YA fantasy quite seamlessly in my opinion.

Our main character, Maeve O'Tullagh was fierce and brace and built for an adventure. With a will of her own she becomes quite the opponent for the mean spirited (and hateful in my opinion) Tom Cavan. She even proves that she is a worthy adversary for an ancient and foreboding Goddess of days old and long forgotten. Not too shabby for a 19 year old girl.

This is a story that had me wondering about so many things throughout; will Maeve "save the day" so to speak? Will she be able to resque her mom and sister in time? Will evil really conquer good? The only aspect I was truly disappointed with was the ending. It might just be me but I found it lacking. I would have appreciated more information. At the same time, although it didn't feel like a traditional cliffhanger, maybe McBride is setting up her readers for future works involving these characters? I can only hope and wait and see. ( )
  kburgess1984 | May 14, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385737815, Hardcover)

There was a time when Maeve O'Tullagh led a simple life; a time when she and her mother, Nuala, collected kelp on the foreshore near their cottage in Ard Macha; a time when she played among the Celtic ruins with her older brothers and daydreamed about the legendary Holy Isles, an enchanted land ruled in a past age by a beautiful goddess.
But after Maeve's sister, Ishleen, is born, her mother sinks into a deep, impenetrable trance. For years, Maeve tries to help her mother "awaken," and then the unthinkable happens: Ishleen succumbs to the same mysterious ailment as Nuala.
            Heartbroken to think that her sister and her mother might be lost to her forever, Maeve sets off on an unimaginable quest to a world filled with fantastical creatures, a web of secrets, a handsome, devious villain who will stop at nothing to have her hand in marriage—braving them all to retrieve a powerful glowing stone that will help her recover the souls of her loved ones and bring them home to Ard Macha.
            An adventure-filled and spellbinding novel, The Fire Opal will enchant fantasy readers young and old.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:11 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

While invading English soldiers do battle in sixteenth-century Ireland, Maeve grows up with a mystical connection to a queen who, centuries before, faced enemies of her own, and uses her special gifts to try to save her mother whose spirit has left her.… (more)

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