This is a fairly strong young adult fantasy collection. Even though none of the stories is perfect, each one is engagingly written and features a different creature of fire.
The first, by Peter Dickinson and about the phoenix, is marred by sudden shifts in perspective that feel too rough for the gentleness of the story; however, it features some of the most beautiful imagery of the collection and is one of the more unique premises.
The second, by Robin McKinley and about a hellhound, is very much for animal lovers (which I am) and may be slow through the first five or so pages if you aren't interested in horses, dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles. After that (or if you don't mind that) however, it features the best pacing through its midsection, setting up a fairly large cast of characters for a short story and building a well-realized world with perhaps the best sense of jeopardy. The climax felt a little too easy, unfortunately, but the story as a whole may have been my favorite.
The third, again by Peter Dickinson and about the fireworm, was the most peculiar. It started very badly, with Dickinson's fictional Native American tribe feeling about as authentic as Disney's in Brother Bear. It was, however, only uphill from there, and the climax was incredibly moving, and caused me to feel angry in the best way. Its denoument again felt a bit easy, but the story was worth it nonetheless.
The fourth, the last by Peter Dickinson and about the salamander, was the only total miss of the collection. It started out very strong, but the instant its main character (a young slave boy named Tib in a pseudo-Middle Eastern setting) became emotionally removed from his actions I did as well.
The last story, by Robin McKinley and about the dragon, was the most well-rounded but unfortunately also the one with nothing about it that really stood out. It was reminiscent of her novel Dragonhaven in its male first-person narrator and semi-stream of consciousness style, but this narrator is far less self-absorbed than Jake was, making him likable even in his total denseness about his world. The world was interesting, if not quite believable (there has never to my knowledge been a culture that despises healers -- it's just not realistic, because people everywhere will get sick and they can't work if they're sick), the pacing was steady and the ending just right for the story.
All in all, while nothing in the collection is earth-shattering in any way, it is a pleasant read and suitable for elementary school children and up.
The settings of these five tales range from ancient to modern, but they are all united by encounters with magical creatures with an affinity for fire. In "Phoenix," Ellie's love for forests leads her to Dave and Welly, caretakers of the ancient Phoenix, displaced from its Egyptian home to damp, chilly Britain. "Hellhound" features animal-loving Miri, whose choice of a red-eyed shelter dog proves providential when she must face a malevolent spirit. In "Fireworm," Tandin spirit-walks to defeat the fireworm that threatens his clan, though in doing so he develops empathy for the creature and its mate and distances himself from his people. "Salamander Man" finds orphaned Tib caught up in a bewildering chain of events, which results in him taking the form of a flaming giant to free the salamanders and rid his city of corrupt magicians. "First Flight," the longest piece, deals with Ern, who helps a dragon with a missing eye find its way back into the Flame Space, which dragons use to travel quickly through time and space. All of these individuals learn something about themselves in their encounters with the fire beasts, and all are the better for it in the end. This collection of beautifully crafted tales will find a warm welcome from fans of either author, as well as from fantasy readers in general.