Dianna Wynne Jones
Fantasy; Older Teen
Fire and Hemlock starts as the main protagonist, Polly, is packing for college. She starts recalling normal memories as she packs, and the stream of reminisces start taking an odd turn when she catches herself recalling vague flashes of another memory, in which a man named Thomas Lynn stars prominently. She starts carefully turning over her memories one by one, starting at a funeral taking place at Hundson House, where she first met Tom Lynn. The first three parts of the book are mainly Polly looking over her memories, and she starts to realise that Tom Lynn was wiped from her memory by the Hundson family, who want to keep Tom in their clutches. Laurel, the apparent head of the Hundson family, and a Mr. Morton Leroy are the more apparent villains in this, keeping a careful eye on Tom and Polly.
The story also includes Tom and Polly making up stories about a grand hero called Tan Coul (Tom's alternate ego) and Hero, Tan Coul's assistant, who is Polly. The story develops as they become gripped by 'this hero business', and it's a major motivation for both Tom and Polly to do the things they do in the book. That is, to keep up their correspondence with each other, even though the Hundson family is doing everything to discourage the relationship. At one point, Polly introduces three other characters, Tan Audrel, Tan Thare and Tan Hanivar, as Tan Coul's friends and allies. Tom then asks her over to his place and gives her a picture taken of the British Philharmonic Orchestra, where he works as a cellist and asks her to identify the trio. Polly picks out the right people, after some trouble with Tan Audrel, justifying Tom's faith in her. He explains later that he is thinking of leaving the Philharmonic and form a quartet (The Dumas Quartet) with the aforementioned three people. Their real names are Ann Abraham, Samuel Rensky and Edward Davies.
The story takes a more sinister turn as Mr. Morton Leroy begins going all out for Polly, first injuring Tom badly, then arranging for Polly's grandmother to tell Tom off for keeping Polly's company. Tom disappears to Australia. Polly later gets invited to Hundson House, where she is told by Laurel, Tom's first wife, that Tom is dying of cancer and asks Polly to forget about him. Polly is mortified, and immediately agrees to do so, thus allowing the Hundson family the power to effectively erase Tom from Polly's memories.
This story follows that of Tam Lin, and Thomas the Rhymer, who Thomas Lynn is supposed to take after. Laurel is the fairy queen, and she dies every eighty-one years, only to be reborn again. She ensnared Thomas Lynn after his brother (who owns Thomas Piper's Hardware Store on Stow-on-the-Water) traded him to save his son, Leslie, only for Leslie to fall into Laurel's grasp. It is inferred that Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer and all the other men after that were sacrificed to provide lives for the Hundson family. Laurel is professed to like better-looking men, preferably with a musical gift of some sort to be sacrificed.
On October the thirty-first, Polly finds Thomas Lynn and accompanies him to the gathering of Hundson folk, where Mr. Morton Leroy's old life is about to be replaced by Tom's new one. Mr. Morton Leroy is the one who orchestrates the situations in which Polly and Tom are caught in, in an attempt to secure his life, sometimes without Laurel's knowledge. Polly informs Laurel that Tom was never supposed to be hurt by clause, and that Mr. Morton broke that by trying to kill him, or at least cause serious damage. Laurel agrees to this, and has Mr. Morton fight Tom.
The rest of the book ends as Polly manages to rescue Tom from Laurel's clutches for the moment. In any way you interpret it, Polly has a very apparent crush on Tom, later to be requited. However, she has to renounce this love in order to save him, and later intends to find away around Laurel's magic. None of that is certain before the book ends, but Dianna Wynne Jones pens it as a very definite finish of the story.
Out of five stars, I'd give this book a three and a half. It's a good read, and absolutely worth the time.