The Fire Opal

The Fire Opal

4.1 10
by Regina McBride

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There was a time when Maeve O'Tullagh led a simple life; a time when she and her mother, Nuala, collected kelp on the foreshore near their cottage in Ard Macha; a time when she played among the Celtic ruins with her older brothers and daydreamed about the legendary Holy Isles, an enchanted land ruled in a past age by a beautiful goddess.
But after Maeve's sister,


There was a time when Maeve O'Tullagh led a simple life; a time when she and her mother, Nuala, collected kelp on the foreshore near their cottage in Ard Macha; a time when she played among the Celtic ruins with her older brothers and daydreamed about the legendary Holy Isles, an enchanted land ruled in a past age by a beautiful goddess.
But after Maeve's sister, Ishleen, is born, her mother sinks into a deep, impenetrable trance. For years, Maeve tries to help her mother "awaken," and then the unthinkable happens: Ishleen succumbs to the same mysterious ailment as Nuala.
            Heartbroken to think that her sister and her mother might be lost to her forever, Maeve sets off on an unimaginable quest to a world filled with fantastical creatures, a web of secrets, a handsome, devious villain who will stop at nothing to have her hand in marriage—braving them all to retrieve a powerful glowing stone that will help her recover the souls of her loved ones and bring them home to Ard Macha.
            An adventure-filled and spellbinding novel, The Fire Opal will enchant fantasy readers young and old.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
Set on the stormy coast of Ireland in the late sixteenth century, The Fire Opal is a classic quest fantasy based on Celtic mythology. The story begins when seven-year-old Maeve O'Tullagh finds an ancient sword engraved with "The Answerer" and hides it in the ruins near her family's cottage. Seven years later, Maeve's twin brothers and father unearth armor while digging peat. Embellished with Viking symbols and made for a giantess, the armor sets into motion strange events that involve the O'Tullagh women. Soon after the find, a mysterious woman gives Maeve amulets, and after giving birth to baby girl Ishleen, Maeve's mother, Nuala, becomes a lifeless shell; her soul has been stolen by the evil goddess Uria. Repeatedly subjected to strange dreams and bizarre visions, Maeve knows supernatural forces are at work but remains silent because the men are in the resistance movement, fighting with their Spanish allies against English invaders. Maeve helps hide and heal wounded Francisco Cortez, and they are intensely drawn to each other, especially after Maeve sees the symbol from her amulets on his compass. When Ishleen becomes like Nuala, Maeve learns that strong forces are at work—good versus evil in the forms of the goddesses Danu and Uria. To save the souls of her loved ones, Maeve undertakes a perilous journey to find the Fire Opal. Filled with fantastic creatures and hair-raising adventure, this mystical, imaginative tale should appeal to fantasy fans of all ages. A compelling, addictive read, the novel's ending suggests a sequel. Reviewer: Rachelle Bilz
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Set on the western Irish coast during the late 16th century, this book is narrated by Maeve O'Tullagh, the daughter of a fisherman whose happy existence is turned upside down when her baby sister dies. Pregnant again, her mother insists that her unborn child is the reincarnation of the one she lost and slips into distraction. A strange lady gives Maeve a talisman to protect her mother. When Mam removes it on the night of the baby's birth, she loses her mind completely. Maeve is convinced that something stole her mother's soul and dedicates herself to protecting her new sister. When the child is four, Ishleen is lost in the same vegetative state. Now 19, Maeve embarks on a journey to discover who has snatched their souls and save them before it's too late, encountering an ancient evil along the way. This novel combines Irish mythology and classic fantasy. Maeve is the perfect "everyman"—observing much but revealing little. While the concept is enthralling, the story is uneven in its execution. The beginning drags until Maeve begins her quest, and then things move almost too quickly. The main characters are well constructed but readers will find it slightly confusing to keep track of which minor characters are important to the story and which are just filler. All in all, this interesting adventure will appeal to dedicated fantasy fans and makes a good additional selection.—Saleena L. Davidson, South Brunswick Public Library, Monmouth Junction, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Celtic spirituality and dreamlike symbolism intertwine in a poetic but languid historical fantasy. Maeve O'Tullagh was only a child when she discovered a mystical weapon on the shore of her fishing village in 16th-century Ireland; years later, it becomes pivotal to a battle between two ancient goddesses, with the souls of Maeve's sister and mother at stake. The story is built upon a strict gender division: Female interactions with all the male characters are as awkward (and sometimes hostile) as the coexistence of the magical feminine Other Realm with the practical masculine world of fishing and fighting. Maeve seems curiously remote from the remarkable events around her and even from her own deeds; her sudden passions and hatreds are inexplicably instinctive, her choices reactive, and everything seems to be driven by the needs of the narrative rather than by the characters themselves. The luminous style creates evocative, layered images, but the plot is tortuously slow, leisurely accumulating minutiae then rushing to a climax in the last 50 pages, leaving far too much unresolved. Frustrating. (Fantasy. YA)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The March wind was wild that Saturday morning when I left the cottage with my brothers to go down the hill to the beach.

I squinted and yawned in the mild sunlight as we descended from the promontory upon which our cottage sat exposed to the full force of the Atlantic gales. I shivered, pulling close the collar of my oilcloth coat.

None of us had slept well the night before.

Our mam had been up crying, and though our da had done his best to calm her, she’d been restless and uneasy over something particular, something she spoke of only in whispers.

Mam had not been fully herself since tragedy had struck our house the year before, when my baby sister had grown sick and died. Now my brothers and I all wanted to shake off the long sleepless night we’d just passed.

My brother Donal began to race toward the rocks where he saw our da’s boat beached. “I’m taking the boat out!” he screamed.

“The wind is too strong!” Fingal called out to him over the noise of the waves. “The boat’ll be dashed to the rocks!”

The waves broke and arched up, foaming and falling across the shoals.

“Our vessel can ride those swells!” Donal shouted proudly. He stood near the boat but made no efforts to drag it into the tide. I knew he was just taunting Fingal, who was of a cautious nature. Even Donal, daredevil that he was, wouldn’t tempt water so agitated.

My brothers and I had helped our father craft the boat and had lined it threefold in fat sealskins. Mam said that if the boat had a soul, it was a seal’s soul, the way it moved, long and dark and sure of itself, cutting the waters. So she had named it Mananan’s Vessel after the Irish sea god.

“I’ve an idea,” Donal said with a desperate sort of exuberance. “Let’s take the boat and leave Ard Macha for good and sail in search of the Holy Isles.”

“There’s no such place as the Holy Isles,” Fingal bellowed over the noise of the surf.

“Many people have reported seeing them,” Donal insisted.

“They’re imaginary. They’re only territories of the mind,” Fingal said, the wind blowing so hard it carried his voice above us and sent it seaward.

All my life, I had heard stories about those mysterious isles, where the goddess who had once ruled Ireland had exiled herself in centuries past. Some said the isles lay to the south, and others said they were to be found at a more northerly latitude. They were known by many names—the Holy Isles, the Land of Women, the Country of the Perpetually Young, the Isles of the Dispossessed—and were supposed to be otherworldly places where extraordinary things occurred.

“They have never been mapped or charted,” Fingal said, always the one to require proof of things.

Donal and Fingal were fifteen, one year older than I, and though they were twins, they could not have been more different. Donal had dark brown hair like mine and Mam’s, and he was strong and solidly built, while Fingal had red hair like our da’s and was slender. Donal was fiery and impulsive, while Fingal approached things with logic and caution. I often felt pulled between the two poles of their different natures, but today, Donal’s wish to escape resonated strongly with my own feelings.

Though the sun shone weakly through the clouds in the eastern sky, the horizon to the west was all mist. The idea of such an adventure, sailing to the west in search of mystical isles, appealed to me greatly. Mam’s unhappiness had been wearing away at my spirit. I ached for the world to open up before me.

“I think it’s sad that you don’t believe in the Holy Isles, Fingal,” Donal said.

Fingal laughed. “I think it’s sad that you do!”

“Stop fighting about it,” I snapped. “And you both know we can’t take the boat out in this weather.” The wind intensified, and our coats beat and rippled wildly around us.

I envisioned the three of us in Da’s boat, sailing through an otherworldly place, the dark clouds broken and ignited with green glimmering light. The Holy Isles were said to be a province altogether different from ours, lit by a black sun. I imagined the sea and the clouded sky illuminated by a dark planetary brilliance.

My two brothers were restless, full of energy and uncertain what to do with it. They ran closer to the water and began kicking stones, making them skid across the water. I saw Fingal bend down, finding something among the flotsam from the tides; then the two of them came running back.

“Look what I found, Maeve.” Fingal held up a jagged piece of something shiny. “A mirror. There’s enough sunlight that I can start a little fire with it.”

The three of us squatted down near a clump of beach grass.

“You see, you get the sunlight in the mirror,” he said, angling it back and forth with blinding flashes, “and shine it on the grass.”

We formed a kind of wall around the grass, blocking the wind. Fingal moved the mirror very carefully, and a blade of grass began to burn; soon, two other blades near it caught on fire.

A sudden loud commotion of birds sounded from the estuary around the rocks to the north. Gulls circled overhead, screeching wildly. As we stood, the wind put out our little fire.

We ran toward the noise, balancing precariously on the stones and leaning against the rock wall, making our way to the estuary. Tom Cavan, a boy a year older than my brothers who lived in the cottage closest to ours on Ard Macha and whom we’d known and disliked all our lives, was clutching tightly to a bit of slippery cliff shelf, stuck there, not certain how to get down safely. A large gull swept back and forth past him, its beak open, threatening to bite. That was when I noticed the hatchlings that lay dead below on the stones.

I pointed them out to my brothers.

“You devil! You lout!” Donal yelled at him.

“Help me, O’Tullagh!” Tom cried. “One of you climb over and around the other way and give me a hand up.”

“No! You monster!” Donal yelled.

“You’re getting your due! I hope she plucks your eyes out!” Fingal said.

“And why do you care so much about these nuisance birds?” Tom asked.

One of the hatchlings squirmed and moved its hardly formed wing.

“Fingal,” I said, touching my brother’s arm. “One of them is alive.”

He went over to it and squatted beside it. “The poor creature is still breathing,” he said, and lifted it very carefully, holding it in one cupped hand.

“I don’t think it’s long for this world,” Donal remarked, looking closely at it.

I touched the hatchling gingerly with one finger, and it blinked and gave a little spasm. Sensing its suffering, I went mad with anger at Tom.

“If it wouldn’t make me as low a creature as you, I’d pick up a stone and throw it at you!” I shrieked, trembling so I could barely control myself.

Tom turned his windburned face in my direction, wearing an expression I’d often seen come into his eyes: a cool fascination, almost as if it entertained him to see how outraged he could make me. At such moments, he seemed indifferent to my brothers’ anger with him. It was my reaction to his cruelty, my frustration with him, that he seemed to revel in. His green eyes glinted with a spark of orange as he stared at me.

For as long as we could remember, Tom Cavan had gone wild each spring, dropping the eggs of gulls from cliff rocks or throwing new hatchlings from their nests. And he shot down birds he never intended to eat. My brothers and I policed him. Da had said that Tom would likely grow out of that bad behavior, but now Tom was sixteen and seemed worse than ever.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Regina McBride is the critically acclaimed author of three novels for adults: The Marriage Bed, The Land of Women, and The Nature of Water and Air. The Fire Opal is her first book for young adults. She teaches creative writing at Hunter College in New York City, where she lives with her husband and daughter.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Fire Opal 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"But I need to find him." Pebblestep finished. "I know." Rabbitflight murmered Absentmindedly, "I know. You know, there is a dangerous pathway down there. Are you sure-" Pebblestep was about to answer when a commotion outside roused her couriosity. She padded out of the Elders den and was shocked. Ashfur had returned. <p> Cats just stared as he passed them and padded into the Warriors den. So much for journying. She let out a sigh. Cometstorm bounded out of nowhere, lt up and whispered in Firestar's ear. He nodded an mewed, "Riverclan has gone missing!" <p> &star &star &star &star &star &star &star **************&star &star &star <p> "Why?" Inquired a cat. "Songstar. I knew it. We are allies so that means we need cats to find them. Pebblestep, Rockpelt, and Mounatinclaw."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a book that interested me from the start! I thought it was very interesting how there was a boy that mad every time he was near her ( that is similar to me and a boy that I know treat eachother the same way but I now he just hates me). The only thing that I really really want to know is that does Francisco comes back!!!!!!!!!!!*_* That is how my face was like when I found out that it wasn't going to say!!!! This is a must read.!!!!!!!! *o*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was so boring that i almost died!!!!!!!!!!!!!!$$$&&$$##$%&%##/,,$#%&@#$%%
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
pagese More than 1 year ago
I haven't read many books set in Ireland. But, what I have read seems to have it's own mystical quality. There's something about Ireland that makes it different and I don't think it's just the legends and myths that have been passed down for centuries. This book is no exception. I think the place and some of the events that are in the background of the story are real. But, it never feels real if that makes sense. It's almost as if the entire story takes place in a fog. It's beautifully written. While, the story is beautiful, I never connected with any of the characters. Mauve was just the tool to tell the story. I understood why she went to such lengths to rescue her mother and her sister. And her adventure was definitely interesting. I just had a hard time investing myself in anything she did. I think I might have found more interest in the story if I knew more about Irish legends, etc. The whole story just felt like it was missing something for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reginas_Fan More than 1 year ago
Regina takes us into a world that few will ever go. Her imagination in her writing is beyond belief. I do not usually read this type of material, but was given this book as a gift. I could not put it down from page 1 to the end. And yes, I want more of The Fire Opal. I'm hooked on Regina McBride and can't wait for another book!!!!!
Barry Wells More than 1 year ago
Burg More than 1 year ago
As an Irish girl I will admit to being somewhat biased coming into this book. With scenery like the brilliant Irish landscapes, laid out for readers to picture while experiencing the journey that was The Fire Opal, what can you expect? I was already half in love with the story before finishing the first chapter. McBride gives her readers magic, mythology/folklore and realism all wrapped up neatly in her debut YA novel. She has made the cross from writing adult fiction to YA fantasy quite seamlessly in my opinion. Our main character, Maeve O'Tullagh was fierce and brace and built for an adventure. With a will of her own she becomes quite the opponent for the mean spirited (and hateful in my opinion) Tom Cavan. She even proves that she is a worthy adversary for an ancient and foreboding Goddess of days old and long forgotten. Not too shabby for a 19 year old girl. This is a story that had me wondering about so many things throughout; will Maeve "save the day" so to speak? Will she be able to resque her mom and sister in time? Will evil really conquer good? The only aspect I was truly disappointed with was the ending. It might just be me but I found it lacking. I would have appreciated more information. At the same time, although it didn't feel like a traditional cliffhanger, maybe McBride is setting up her readers for future works involving these characters? I can only hope and wait and see what McBride has in store for us.