Rannoch is marked from birth, a deer who faces his destiny in this Watership Down read alike for teens.
Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies. Firebird, 2007 (re-issue). 512 pages.
Reading Level: Teens, ages 12 and up
Recommended For: Teens, ages 12 and up
Rannoch is born a marked fawn, both literally and figuratively. The special leaf-shape on his forehead sets him apart, forcing him into hiding from birth, much like Moses. An adoptive mother guards him carefully, concealing his mark with mud, watching lest Rannoch’s true identity be discovered. Sgorr, the deer with ambitions to violently take over their herd, runs things with an iron hand, and he wants none of the former leaders—or their offspring—left alive to challenge him. His ruthlessness is reminiscent of other tyrants throughout history who have been determined to claim allegiance among the young and who are bent on conquest at any price.
Rannoch and his companions grow up hearing the old stories stories that tell of a promised leader with a sign on his brow who will come to lead his “people” (deer) to greener pastures and better living. But Rannoch is not interested in this calling. Indeed, like many “promised ones” throughout history, he takes a circuitous route to his destiny, learning and growing through the school of hard knocks. And yet, when he does take up the mantle of leadership, those around can look back and recognize the many parts of fulfilled prophecy even as he sought to evade his fate.
Many liken this to Watership Down, only with deer. The similarity is certainly apt; Fire Bringer has many of the same elements. Animal stories for teens and adults are not cute, warm fuzzy animal stories; these animals are real animals who mate, fight, die, and live as animals. Anthropomorphism lends them personalities and conversation, but no deer walk on hind legs or act like humans. Clement-Davies is so successful at keeping his deer as deer that readers will walk away without a strong connection with any one character. Like Adams in Watership Down, this is a world utterly from the animals’ perspectives, needs, and lifestyles, but the literary hero motif echoes throughout.
Rannoch’s journey will offer much food for thought, even if readers aren’t drawn to him as a noble hero: what does it take to lead a group? Can we avoid our destiny? When should a leader be overthrown? Indeed, many of the same topics that arise in Watership Down will come up in Fire Bringer. Read this for both the story and its ideas.
Chapter Length: Chapters are long in this book. That may seem a funny “consideration,” but some readers will struggle. Encourage slower readers to be patient and to be willing to put a bookmark mid-chapter! Earlier chapters are more fast-paced than later ones.Sexuality: The deer talk about mating and various deer’s offspring, but there are no descriptions of any particular activities.Death and Violence: This is a dog-eat-dog world, or, at least, a story of one deer seeking to rise to power through whatever means necessary. That often means violence, just as it does in the real world.Religion: The religious rites in one of the deer communities have distinct Druid overtones in the way sacrifice is discussed. Since this book is clearly a fantasy, this seems merely to represent religious ideas in general. In addition, the sacrificial element is an essential one, as it is in most True stories (like the Bible itself!).
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Worldview/Moral Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Literary/Artistic Rating: 4.25 out of 5
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