Fleabag and the Ring Fire, by Beth Webb, is the first book in a fantasy adventure trilogy aimed at 7-11 year olds. It introduces the reader to Gemma the kitchen maid, Rowanne the lady knight, Phelan the thief, and the incorrigible Fleabag, a three legged talking cat. Together this unlikely trio set out on a quest to find the Fire Ring, a symbol of power which has been hidden after the old queen died without naming a successor. Only one who is worthy will be able to find the jewel, and Gemma has been tasked with authenticating it when returned.
Gemma is only ten years old and has never before left the city of Harflorum where she was plucked from the streets as a young child and given a job in the palace kitchens. Her life has not been easy, mainly due to the cruel cook under whom she must work. The responsibilities she has now been given come close to overwhelming her. She does not understand how someone so ordinary can be of importance to the realm.
The mysterious Fire Wielder, who even the queen venerated, tasks Rowanne, a pompous Knight of the Queen’s Guard, with protecting the child. This proves to be a challenge for them both. Gemma’s only friend in the palace was Fleabag, the queen’s disreputable cat. He is a useful ally and advisor to the girl but is hated by Rowanne. The feeling is mutual.
The group set out on a long and difficult journey. They travel through cities where the populace are mistreated by a cruel prince, ignored by pontificating academics, and terrorised by a fearsome beast. Even when their party is joined by Phelan, a boy who chose a life of crime after he was orphaned, they seem little match for the forces they must face. They have a year and a day to find the ring before its magical fire goes out and chaos descends.
In Harflorum, the Fire Wielder placed a little of the ring fire in Gemma’s care. Phelan has some knowledge of this strange force and helps Gemma to use the power she has been given. Gemma recoils from the responsibility, yet steadfastly pursues the task she promised her beloved queen she would complete. The denouement is satisfying with the story being wound up but questions remaining for the next two books in the series to answer.
The writing is straightforward but not simplistic. There is plenty of action to keep this age group engaged. The fabulous illustrations of key characters scattered throughout the text add to the visual appeal. Fleabag is wonderful, a cat of the highest calibre despite appearances.
This is a reworked edition of a story first published in 1995 when it gained many young fans. The text has been tightened and new illustrations added to create a gorgeous book wrapped around a world where magic and dragons are more than just myths.
I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this tale. A treasure trove for young people, highly recommended.