By Marty Mulrooney
Ember Fury by Cathy Brett is a book I began to read with some trepidation. Not for fear of the quality held in-between its covers might I add. Oh no, a quick glance inside shows a plethora of wonderful illustrations that is guaranteed to suck you right in from the get go regardless of the quality of the actual writing. Rather, the titular protagonist being a teenage girl had me worried that I wouldn’t be the intended target audience at all.
And admittedly, I’m not. This is most definitely a book for young teenagers and furthermore will likely resonate most strongly with rather quirky teenage girls. Yet I still really enjoyed reading it as a 20-something adult male, for a number of reasons. Please bear with me here and I shall explain exactly why!
First of all, the aforementioned illustrations work wonders at bringing the story to life. An otherwise cookie-cutter plot is infused with an almost graphic novel style that flows beside, through and amidst the text. It is a wonderful effect that I am no doubt doing an injustice to with my inadequate description. As a huge fan of graphic novels, this aspect of the book immediately got my attention.
The main story deals with our protagonist Ember Fury, a spoilt pyromaniac whose mother died years ago and whose rock star father is a largely absent presence in her life. Mostly taking place in L.A whilst Ember stays with her stepmother, the plot is reminiscent of that same old tale of spoilt well-off teenagers who don’t realise how good they’ve got it.
INT. FUNKY, GRUNGY FURNITURE STORE, ECHO PARK – DAY. CLOSE-UP: EMBER Fury is totally fed up and gazing out of the window at the passing traffic.
Ned showed up the next day. I had assumed that maybe he wouldn’t, in America, I mean, since the therapy and the drugs and all that. Ned was the only thing I hadn’t talked much about in my sessions with Dr Redmond. You know when adults say they understand but they really don’t; well, I knew right from the start that she just wouldn’t get it.
Yet this age-old tale is certainly told with generous dollops of flare and innovation. The above extract highlights one of my favourite aspects of the book; the use of screenwriting prose to set the scene before segueing effortlessly into the traditional third person narrative style of storytelling. Coupled with the illustrations also penned by Brett, page turning remains a constant delight.
Elsewhere, everything feels authentic, from Ember’s gradually revealed personality to the locations and characteristics of Los Angeles. There is even a wonderful shift to World War 2 era Britain at one point, meticulous in its detail, raising the question of whether Ember’s imaginary friend is indeed just that, or an actual ghost?
Each episode (rather than chapter) leads deliciously into the next, making you want to see how the tale will pan out in the end even if some parts fall flat along the way. Sadly, some of the more interesting aspects are never fully explained, but perhaps that is because they were never the real focus of the book in the first place, only given greater weight due to a male reader’s unique perspective. I certainly connected far more with World War 2 era Britain and imaginary friend Ed than I did with Ember and the artificiality of L.A. Then again, perhaps that was the entire point, in which case bravo to Cathy Brett for making the joins between the two so seamless: we get to see everyday life from a pair of very unique and foreign perspectives.
In the end, I couldn’t quite relate to Ember due to all the talk of snogging and boys etc throughout, but she endeared herself to me nonetheless. I previously mentioned authenticity, but I can obviously not vouch for this with regards to a super rich funky female teen. Yet there are surprising moments of poignancy that are rather touching towards the end, especially where the text deals with the loss of Ember’s mother and her efforts to reconnect with her father. Surely most readers will be able to relate to these humanistic elements of the book regardless of gender or age.
Ember Fury may not have the universal appeal of other young adult books like Harry Potter or I Am Not A Serial Killer (both of which can be enjoyed by teenage and adult readers) yet the unique presentation style is difficult to fault. The plot is rather average overall but still manages to surprise with sparks of ingenuity through both its creative writing styles and strong illustrations. This in turn raises it from being merely average to rather good. And if you are a young female reader, rest assured you can safely add an extra point to my final score. An enjoyable, wonderfully illustrated light read.
7 OUT OF 10
Special thanks to Maura Brickell from Headline Publishing, who attached the following Post-it note to my press copy of Ember Fury:
Strictly a teen novel, but I think it’s pretty damn cool!