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Reviewed by Liz Konkel for Readers' Favorite
Firecracker: A Young Adult Fantasy by A.L. Knorr is the first book in the Arcturus Academy series. Saxony is one of the few who have survived a forbidden ritual that can take a fire magi from Unburned to Burned. Those that survive obtain power beyond anything they had before. Then Headmaster Chaplin decides to enlist Saxony in helping a student, but when that student is chosen by Saxony's nemesis as his next victim, she's pushed to breaking point. The same bully is the evil twin of her crush Gage who never seems to catch his brother in the act and is someone she shares a mage-bond with for reasons she doesn't want to understand. Defending her friend could lead her to unleash the darkest part of herself, but what will she become if she does? The plot is focused around the academy with training, tests, tutoring, bullies, crushes, and mean girls. The antagonist is Saxony's nemesis who is the bully that has everyone charmed, but who has rubbed her up the wrong way since they first met.
The story takes place within a fire-based academy solely for fire magi who have abilities based on fire. Everything in the academy is fire-themed from the fire fair to all of the delightfully named classes including fire and flood, living with the fire, fire science, and pyro technology. These fire-oriented elements help to round out the heated world which also matches not only Saxony's abilities but her fiery personality. Saxony is a fun character due to her attitude that's a little sarcastic, a bit short-fused, and impulsive which makes her easy to relate to and makes every scene fun to read. Saxony is a layered character that's very protective and strong-willed, coming to the defense of a friend no matter what. Knorr delivers a strong and delightful voice for Saxony's story which immediately draws you into the world of fire and introduces you to who she is. This establishes the tone through the first-person narration which includes Saxony's delightful, snarky names that she uses for her nemesis, including a humorous name for a goblin. A.L Knorr also realistically portrays bullies in how they can manipulate everyone and set their sights on specific targets to harass. Firecracker lives up to its title in every way with a unique world of fire that puts a spin on the school setting with a heroine that has a fiery personality and attitude.