About the Book

Title: Fireball (The Fireball Trilogy #1)
Published: 1981

Cover Story: Classically Ugly
BFF Charm: Sure, Why Not? and Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Straight Forward
Bonus Factors: Parallel Universes, Gladiators
Relationship Status: Cousin Who Visits Once Every Couple of Years

Cover Story: Classically Ugly

This cover is obviously ugly, but it’s so perfect in all of its eighties paperback glory, that I can’t help feeling nostalgic just looking at it. There is something about books this old where we EXPECT them to be this dumb and ugly and it would feel wrong otherwise. Never mind that the cover takes some correct things from the story, but combines them to be weirdly inaccurate.

But! My cover is a great deal better than this (which I believe is the original hardcover). Which is about the creepiest creep I’ve ever seen.

“So THAT’S what an uncircumcised penis looks like…”

The Deal

Simon is totally expecting his summer break to blow chunks. Not only is he unable to go on the school’s summer trip with his classmates, he has to bunk up with his American second cousin who he has never met. Which turns out to be ever more annoying than anticipated when Simon realizes his cousin Brad is smarter than he is. However, things take a turn for the unexpected when Simon and Brad are out in the countryside for a walk. What they can only describe as a ‘fireball’ comes and transports them to some unknown place. They are split up and eventually Simon finds himself captured and sold off as a slave. When he finds he’s being trained to be a Gladiator, Simon believes himself to be in the past, during the Roman occupation of Britain. The reality is still the current year but a parallel universe – one where the Roman Empire never fell. Can Simon manage to survive as a slave and a Gladiator? And will he ever find Brad again or find his way back home?

Side note: I was super jazzed when I saw this book at my library’s used book sale. I’d never heard of it, but John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy is one of my favorite middle-grade-ish series of all time. But pretty sure Fireball hasn’t even been in print for about 20 years.

BFF Charm: Sure, Why Not? and Maybe

BFF charm with a :-| face

I really don’t have any strong feelings toward Simon. I mean, I appreciate that he handles the whole “alternate universe” thing like a champ. No whining, minimal complaining and he accepts the harsh reality of his situation quickly. He has a jealous streak, especially when it comes to Brad, but it’s funny as opposed to annoying:

What bugged Simon was that while he had been prepared to make allowances, lend a helping hand and all that, he found no take for his generosity. And while he had been determined not to say or do anything which might make his American cousin feel inferior or embarrassed, it was more than slightly galling to have evidence of the other’s superiority thrust down his throat instead.

I still haven’t made my mind up on Brad. He’s a bit too smart for his own good, but very resourceful. I suppose I just had a hard time accepting Brad because I spent the entire book assuming he would turn evil (spoiler alert: he didn’t).

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

There was a potential love interest in this book BUT NO. While I’ve only read a grand total of four of this author’s books, I’m annoyed at his unwillingness to write decent female characters. He had ONE female character in his Tripod books and one in this and they were basically the same. Very pretty with a completely bland/generic personality? Of interest to the main character but it doesn’t work out in the end because the girl makes a stupid choice? Yes in both cases! But then, the book doesn’t really need any swoon, of course a couple of interesting females would be appreciated now and then, tyvm.

Talky Talk: Straight Forward

The descriptions and narrative were straight forward and well written. Nothing was very flowery and the plot flowed very quickly. I really felt the author was skilled at writing the teenage male and their relationships with each other. For example, this scene between Simon and Brad:

The television news had been on, showing yet another scene of mob violence somewhere, and he had quoted a bit about Napoleon sorting out the Paris mob with a whiff of grapeshot. Brad said that was the sort of idea Hilter had, too, and somewhere Simon found himself arguing not just with Brad but with his parents as well. He felt, moreover, that he had been maneuvered into defending a view he didn’t really hold, but was not prepared to shift sides.

Bonus Factor: Parallel Universes

Side by side photos of regular Mr. Spock and Evil Mr. Spock

YESSSSSSS parallel universes are the best! There is nothing creepier than a world that is similar to ours but with one small change that MAKES EVERYTHING CRAZY. It’s a concept I NEVER GET TIRED OF.

Bonus Factor: Gladiators

Kassandra from Assassin's Creed Odyssey

If there’s one thing our website universally approves of, it’s making people fight to the death! Wait, I mean champagne. But the death thing too! And Simon’s training and time in the arena were quite exciting.

Relationship Status: Cousin Who Visits Once Every Couple of Years

This book was fun to hang out with and brings back a lot of memories of the books I used to hang out with growing up. So while maybe I only visit with books like this every few years or so, that’s the perfect frequency for a reunion. More often and it loses some of its novelty and appeal. But just often enough to give you a good dose of nostalgia to remind you of the era you grew up in.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Fireball is available now.

Megan is an unabashed fangirl who is often in a state of panic about her inability to watch, read and play all the things.