THE MIRROR OF FIRE AND DREAMING
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Roaring Brook Press, September 2005. Hardcover, 329 pages. $16.95. www.chitradivakaruni.com

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of those gifted writers who touches readers of all ages. Known primarily for her adult fiction, she solidifies her younger reader base with this latest offering, The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming. The middle entry in “The Brotherhood of the Conch” trilogy, The Mirror combines courage, loyalty, selflessness, and friendship with folklore, magic, mysticism, and fantasy. Magic apprentice Anand, his high-spirited sidekick Nisha, and their revered teacher Abhaydatta take the reader on yet another extraordinary journey, one that propels them into the past.

Anand, a boy from the slums of Kolkata, embraces his new life in the Himalayan Silver Valley after having made the perilous journey to return the powerful and sacred Conch to a hidden group of Healers (Book One: The Conch Bearer). During his classes, he is overcome by whispers of evil and visions of desperation. The council interprets these messages to mean that a distant village is suffering great loss and determines the Healers must intervene.

Abhaydatta is sent on the mission, and Anand remains behind, dejected, holding a bag of magic pearls that will indicate if something has gone amiss. Days later, he has a vision in a waterfall. Despite having misplaced the pearls, Anand knows that Abhaydatta is in trouble. Anxious and impatient, the young man enlists Nisha and the Conch to accompany him on a secret journey to rescue his mentor.

Anand becomes separated from his friends during transport through time and space but learns that Abhaydatta went into the forest to explore ruins where the root of the suffering lies. There, Anand not only finds a jinn at work but also that he is able to slip in and out of visions of a glorious past. He stumbles upon an old mirror that is a window, sometimes a portal to the past. Anand discovers it is his best source of survival. Escaping through the mirror, he lands in the court of the Shah-en-Shah of Bengal, Nawab Nazib, 100 years earlier during the time of the Muslim rulers. He finds himself in the swirling center of a world of durbars and zenanas, festivals and parades, a dark magician and a chief minister, a ruler and a dangerous game of power. Somewhere in this past world, Anand will have to locate his companions and ultimately use his wits to save everyone including himself.

Readers who enjoyed The Conch Bearer will recognize Divakaruni’s fondness for her young characters and desire to challenge them as they grow and learn. The author’s pinpoint yet poetic language draws readers in, painting pictures of an exotic setting while maintaining a child’s sense of wonder and adventure. Although it is recommended to read The Conch Bearer first, it is not necessary. The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming provides a concise recap of what happened in the first book without becoming a hindrance to the story at hand. As a sequel,The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming not only holds up to its predecessor but exceeds it in both scope and imagination. It will be interesting to learn what the future holds for the third and final entry.

Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes near Chicago, where she freelances as a copywriter and teaches Creative Writing to children through the Center for Gifted-National Louis University.
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