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The Tears of the Salamander    by Peter Dickinson order for
Tears of the Salamander
by Peter Dickinson
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What impresses me most about Peter Dickinson is his versatility. He's a master of his craft whether writing high fantasy, a contemporary story, or an account of prehistoric peoples. Tears of the Salamander is the tale of Alfredo, whose estranged uncle Giorgio sends him a small golden salamander on a chain for his seventh birthday. Alfredo's father is a master baker, highly skilled at managing his ovens, and his son also develops an early talent to handle fire.

When it's discovered that Alfredo has a voice, he's taken into the Cathedral choir and, between the bakery and the choir, life is blissful. He feels 'as though flame and music were only different ways in which a single, majestic power made itself manifest'. Then comes disaster in the form of a fire that changes his fate and sends young Alfredo to the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily to live with his dour uncle Giorgio, who demands his nephew's assistance with his 'Great Works'.

It turns out that Giorgio is an alchemist/sorceror, and that the same talent to master fire runs in Alfredo's genes. His uncle teaches the boy songs that allow him to control the flames deep in the heart of the volcano, and introduces him to a caged salamander, whose tears heal human ills, and who sings to Alfredo of 'fiery caverns through which flowed the streams of molten rock in which the salamanders swam, or hauled themselves out onto the glowing ledges to sing.'

Alfredo wonders about his uncle's mute housekeeper Annetta and her simple son (despised by Giorgio) Toni. After he helps Toni to awaken his music and meets Angels of Fire, Alfredo must hold his courage in his hands and follow his true heritage, as he makes difficult choices and unravels the puzzles around him. Ultimately Alfredo discovers that 'home is a place where a few people feel at home with each other' and finds a place where he belongs.

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