‘Jump!’ There’s a super-dramatic opening to The Secret Fire: Sacha, cocky, French, reckless to an extraordinary degree, voluntarily jumps from the top of a five storey building for a bet. That’s shocking enough, but then he gets up and walks away. It’s the kind of first chapter that defies the reader to put the book down. By the time we find out just what gives Sacha his apparent immortality, another teen has entered the action: Taylor, also 17, lives in England and is studying hard for her ‘A’ levels, determined to win a place at Oxford. She’s about as different to Sacha as you can get, but when the two start to talk on Skype, in a kind of online school exchange scheme designed to improve Sacha’s English, the atmosphere crackles, and not just because of Taylor’s sudden freaky tendency to blow electricity circuits simply by her presence.
Teens with special powers are nothing new in YA fiction, and it probably won’t come as a surprise to readers to discover that not only is Sacha’s life in Taylor’s hands, but that she is the only person on the planet strong enough to take on dark forces threatening humanity. However, its authors – this is a co-creation between C J Daugherty and best-selling French author Carina Rozenfeld – certainly know a lot about creating atmospheric, involving thrillers. The second half of the book in particular is terrifically tense, with a very real sense of impending danger. The paranormal element – Taylor is the last in a long line of female alchemists – is clever and original, and I was taken too with the sharp Buffy-esque dialogue and tone. A welcome piece of authorly entente cordiale!