Booklist Reviews

As Dickinson explains in his preface, the idea for a series of volumes about mythical beasts inhabiting each of the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—began 20 years ago in a brainstorming session with his wife, novelist Robin McKinley. Their first collaborative volume in the series, Water, appeared in 2002; the second, Fire, in 2009. This solo effort by Dickinson focusing on both earth and air concludes the series. The six long stories here deal with such mythical beings as trolls, witches, ancient gods, wood demons, and more. One story is a loose reimagining of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth; another presents a bewildering variety of creatures on a distant planet. The prevailing tone of all six is somewhat dark, even saturnine, though not without flashes of hope. In content and style, they are sophisticated and challenging to the extent that the volume might have been published as an adult book. Certainly it has strong crossover appeal. Older teens and Dickinson fans of all ages will find the stories rewarding despite the investment of effort in the reading experience. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Dickinson completes the series of "elemental" tales he began with his wife Robin McKinley (Water; Fire). Though links to the theme can be tenuous, these six new stories are provocative in both variety and ideas. Suspenseful, frequently violent, sometimes comic, and with Dickinson's usual command of imaginative imagery and beautifully tooled language, this is a fitting capstone to the series.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Dickinson completes the series of "elemental" tales he began with his wife Robin McKinley (Water, rev. 7/02; Fire, rev. 11/09). Though links to the theme can be tenuous, these six new stories are provocative in both variety and ideas. "Troll Blood" features a scholarly May/December friendship founded on Old Norse; it bursts into action with an underwater rescue (think Beowulf) and includes romance and a neat genealogical twist. In "Wizand" a dynamic, self-renewing broom controls witches notable for their cerebral power. Yanni, an island boy in Christian Byzantium, nurtures Athena's owl ("Scops"); returning the favor, the goddess rescues him from a Minotaur-like demon and its horrific pagan rite. In "Talaria," Varro escapes slavery and survives the African desert by dispatching a dying gryphon and making use of its various parts, which are later regenerated in a fitting manner (indeed, regeneration is a common theme here). The young master of "Ridiki," a dog prematurely lost (like Eurydice) to the underworld, seeks closure there and above ground. And "The Fifth Element" is a creative effusion of fantastical creatures that coalesce in an interplanetary team, with ironic -- and surprising -- roles for its apparent protagonist (a man) and a useless-seeming cat. Suspenseful, frequently violent, sometimes comic, and with Dickinson's usual command of imaginative imagery and beautifully tooled language, this is a fitting capstone to the series. joanna rudge long Copyright 2012 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Dickinson, a two-time Carnegie Medal winner, continues his series of short story collections based on the four elements; the two previous volumes were coauthored with his wife, Robin McKinley. Many of the six tales within are drawn from mythology. In the powerful "Troll Blood," a college student named Mari who, according to family tradition, is distantly descended from trolls, becomes strangely interested in the study of an obscure Old Norse manuscript. In "Ridiki," a Greek boy, Steff, who mourns the loss of his dog, is drawn, like Orpheus, to a cave with the forbidding name of Tartaros. The remarkable "Wizand" introduces a hitherto unknown magical symbiont responsible for the creation of witches, whose "closest analogy... in the material world... is that of certain tropical ticks." The somewhat less successful "The Fifth Element," the only SF story in the book, concerns a multispecies, interstellar exploration team whose work becomes oddly uncoordinated after the death of Cat, their seemingly useless mascot/pet. These unusual, memorable tales from a much-admired writer should appeal both to teens and Dickinson's adult fans. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)

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School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 7–9—In this companion to Water (2002) and Fire (2009, both Putnam), his short story collections with Robin McKinley, Dickinson goes solo as he explores fantastic creatures of the realms of earth and air. Drawing on ancient Norse, Celtic/British, Greek, and Roman mythological traditions, and using a rather formal style that hints at folktale, he explores the relationship of people to the gods and how they react when confronted with the fantastic. In these five varied stories, a woman with a genetic connection to trolls finds a way to make a deal with one in order to save her husband; a man who kills a gryphon finds himself in a process of physical transformation; a boy whose beloved dog dies ventures into Hell to find her; a brother and sister who save an owl find supernatural help as they confront evil in their village; and a magical spirit, a wizand, enables a young girl to connect to the magical power within herself. Unfortunately, the first story is the least accessible, with unexplained literary and cultural references that threaten to overwhelm the storytelling, and "Wizand" suffers from too much exposition, but the other three stories sparkle with plot twists and powerful imagery, and will be enjoyed by readers who welcome a challenge. This is ultimately a wonderfully hopeful work, with glimpses at some of the best of human nature: compassion, love, a sense of right and fairness, and a correspondingly humane response from the supernatural powers.Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City

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