This is supposed to be part of a collection of short stories focusing on the various elements, eventually. I remember reading bits of the first book (Water) back in high school and Fire just came out this past year. Part of the delay is that two stories were supposed to be part of this collection but they became full-length novels instead (Sunshine and Chalice) so Robin McKinley has been rather busy. I haven't read any works by the other author, (although I have seen The Ropemaker at my local library) so, enough with the introduction, onto the review!
Fire by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson
Well, the cover works but it isn't that inspired. It's quite possible I'm a bit more cynical about the cover after my business in photography class but looking at it I started figuring out how much the publisher would have paid for a stock image for a North American, English language only release with a one year license. Besides that, I have a bone to pick with the typography (and I never care about the typography!). They used a really cheesy font for the titles that looked like the words had fire in them and I thought it was rather dumb actually, but again, this is just me being nitpicky.
Summary: Five stories involving fire and magic, from dragons to salamanders to hellhounds, fire can be both a destructive element and a protective one as well. As a quick note, the stories in the book are numbered out of order (I think it goes 2, 3, 5, 4, and then 1) and I read them in the order of the numbers. There doesn't seem to be any special reasoning to the numbers so you can read them in any order.
The Good: I liked the story "Hellhound" the most (heh, and after reading McKinley's blog I didn't even have to check and see who the author was) and I thought it was a nice "all the myths are true" story in the end (now that I think about it, the overall mood of the story reminded me a bit of Fire and Hemlock). I also liked "First Flight" (by McKinley again) for it's world building, actually, I remember she did another book about dragons once, I wonder if those two are connected. And that really sums up what I like about her books (aka, why I keep reading them despite all the other issues I have with them), she does some really neat stuff with world building that keeps my enthralled and makes me remember the story when I'm done. So, if you're already a fan of her work, you'll enjoy this one too.
The Bad: Well, I had issues with the protagonists of all the stories really. In Dickinson's stories my problems lay more with the plot now that I think about it (the story started in the beginning, got a bit confusing and then explained EVERYTHING in the end, no hints along the way to figure it out myself and that's what I love to do while reading) and just wasn't that interested in his stories. For McKinley, a lot of her characters are really shy and I find myself yelling at them to explain themselves so the plot can move forward*. It's a problem I have with a lot of her protagonists and perhaps I am being too harsh on them. However, I like characters who do stuff, no matter how small, to advance the plot and her characters just either take too long to do so or are too passive for my taste.
I have heard McKinley say that yes, someday there will be four anthology books someday, it's just that her stories keep getting away from her. "First Flight" was a hundred pages long and one story she was working on for the next anthology (Air) is now a two volume doorstopper (Pegasus, which I haven't read yet but hope to soon). Here's to hoping that they finish with the books soon, within the next ten years at least please?
*Okay, I was a really shy person in middle school and still am a bit shy now but I'm able to at least do stuff, so seeing how I managed to grow but these characters didn't makes it a bit hard to sympathize.