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The Key and the Flame

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Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding—and using—the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust. The Key & the Flame is the first in a brand-new fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

480 pages, Hardcover

First published April 2, 2013

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About the author

Claire M. Caterer

2 books61 followers
Claire M. Caterer is the author of two children's fantasy novels, The Key and the Flame, and its sequel, The Wand and the Sea. She has also published nonfiction articles as well as several short stories for adults. She writes and lives in the suburbs of Kansas City with one husband, one daughter, two dogs, and a host of imaginary friends.

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5 stars
130 (37%)
4 stars
101 (28%)
3 stars
66 (18%)
2 stars
34 (9%)
1 star
18 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews
Profile Image for Moira.
284 reviews
October 25, 2012
I think I shall dream of Anglielle tonight. Dream of a world full of magic and mischief - a world like our own and yet not, where to prove you have magic is to make yourself an enemy of the crown - a world that is waiting to be saved by a girl with a key, her younger brother and a boy who wants so badly to be the hero, just this once. Yes, tonight I shall dream of Anglielle.
Profile Image for Kit Grindstaff.
Author 1 book69 followers
February 7, 2013
Claire Caterer’s debut is a time-traveling, wand-slashing tale, full of an endearing cast of characters—human, animal, and other—who come to the aid of the book’s main character, the plucky and very likeable Holly.

Holly, a bored 11 year old, is in England for the summer with her parents and younger brother, Ben. Holly has longed for mystery and adventure (ah, beware of what you wish for), and the small village near Oxford where her father is posted is the perfect setup for both: sleepy and old, with an ancient castle nearby which you just know bodes something...well, not good.

Almost immediately, Holly steps into a puzzle, with choices to make: What is the key that she's been given? What door does it unlock, leading where, and should she go there? Like any good feisty heroine, Holly is not one to ignore a challenge, and so she, her brother, and new friend Everett soon find themselves in the kingdom of Anglielle. In this alternate olde worlde, Holly begins to realize there’s more to her than she knew, and the reader is taken on a medieval ride including castles, invasions and jousts, along with a cast of magical folk and otherworldy creatures (as well as a few humans) all of whom live under the evil Raethius’s thumb.

This is a story that picks you up and carries you through gathering action with barely a moment to draw breath, and Caterer's writing is skillful and confident. Here’s what stays with me most about it:
1. The voice. Fantastic! Written with levity and a great deal of warmth, some passages had me laughing out loud. (Check out p. 42 in particular. Brilliant!). We’re in Holly and Everett’s alternating points of view (mostly Holly’s), digging deeper into each character as the story progresses. Tone and narrative distance shift to match the mounting drama in a way that feels just right. In addition, the olde-Englishe spoken by Anglielle’s people (and other creatures) has an authentic Shakespearean ring (and I do love Will!) while at the same time remaining understandable. Very nicely done.
2. The sense of place. Caterer’s description of the Oxfordshire countryside— the little cottage, the woods nearby, the ruined castle—is very atmospheric and real, and made this Brit expat feel a tad homesick for a warm British summer with its “bee-loud glades” (kudos to W.B. Yeats for that lovely description) and the sense of deep mystery that exudes from its ancient woodlands.
3. The way Caterer handles the shifting between worlds. The description when Holly first wanders beyond the veil of ‘reality’ is quite wonderful, as it is when magic infuses her, particularly the first time. I was right in Holly’s shoes.

Altogether a fun and exciting read.
Profile Image for Trudy Zufelt.
109 reviews1 follower
May 27, 2013
Holly wishes for more than her boring life in America offers. When her parents and younger brother, Ben move to an English Village for the summer, Holly receives a peculiar iron key from the cottage's caretaker. The key opens a door in a tree where Holly, Ben and their new English friend, Everett, end up in the medieval kingdom of Anglielle.

Ben and Everett are taken prisoner in the castle and where Holly must learn to use the key which transforms into a wand to rescue them. Magical creatures both help and hinder Holly's progress. While the plot has substance and the characters and mythical creatures spark interest, the action lacks the excitement and suspense needed to carry such a long fantasy novel. Caterer paints a pretty picture but leaves out the crucial step of actually meeting the wizard-like antagonist, saving it for the next book in the series. The Flame & The Key will captivate the most voracious fantasy lovers, but the more fickle middle grade reader may put it down halfway through.

This review appears on my blog, Boys to Books, where I gave it3 1/2 stars.
190 reviews5 followers
June 28, 2013
I bought this book for my son, and then I read it all in one sitting after he went to bed. I found myself completely absorbed in the imaginary kingdom portrayed in the book, and in fact found myself wishing I could go visit Anglielle and see it for myself. Though the main character is a girl, the author cleverly switches points of view between Holly and the boys in the book, Ben and Everett, which gives it characters that boys as well as girls can relate to. Watching Holly find strength and special skills she never knew she possessed is delightful, especially for anyone who goes through life feeling painfully ordinary.
Profile Image for Lorelie.
855 reviews5 followers
April 4, 2013
Loved it! Can't wait for the next installment! That's always the problem in starting a series :0) Love the characters and the story! Can't wait to see what comes next!
Profile Image for Christa Seeley.
952 reviews94 followers
May 15, 2013
This review originally posted at More Than Just Magic

The Key and The Flame is a whimsical middle grade adventure. It has a very Narnia feel to it – finding a portal into another world within an every day object. But this time it’s a tree instead of wardrobe. I love stories where ordinary people/kids are whisked away to new places where they encounter adventure, danger and best of all magic. Because of this The Key and The Flame called out to me right away and I knew I had to read it.

Claire M Caterer has a real flair for setting the scene. She writes great descriptions – of the English country side, of the forest in Anglielle, of the castle. I think it’s safe to use the phrase “paints with words” in this case. But her writing isn’t overly fancy either. The voice is clearly middle grade. There are a lot of lines that are sure to get younger readers to crack a smile (and the young at heart too).

Holly, Ben and Everett were a fun and interesting bunch of characters and I especially appreciated the sister-brother relationship, between Ben and Holly. I liked that they still squabbled like siblings, but ultimately they worked together. It seemed in line with my own experience with my video game loving younger brother, so they were an easy pair to relate to. But on the other hand I also felt like we never really knew anything about these characters. There wasn’t a lot of back story for any of them. I wanted Holly to prevail because I don’t want to see anyone innocent imprisoned/murdered but there was no deeper investment than that.

The only other problem was that the book was a bit long. I guess that’s the downfall of such great descriptions is that often they can take and add extra bulk to the story. Sometimes the large size works for Middle Grade but sometimes it seems to drag. Depends on the reader, so it may be something to keep in mind if you’re considering picking this up.

Recommendation: A fun, easy middle grade read. Great for fans of the Narnia series by CS Lewis or Wildwood by Colin Meloy.
Profile Image for Erik This Kid Reviews Books.
836 reviews69 followers
June 21, 2013
Holly Shepard wanted an adventure but she should have been careful what she wished for. She found herself, her brother, and a friend, plunged into a world filled with magic and swords. Now all she wants is to have her “boring” life back. When Holly enters this new world, she becomes an Adept, a person with magical abilities, which is outlawed. When Holly’s brother and their friend are captured by and sentenced to death by the royal family, it is up to Holly to save them and find a way back home.

I really liked the Holly character in this book. It’s nice to see a girl main character in a story that has magic as a plot, plus it’s a really good character. I like that she is smart, kind, brave and loyal. I liked the character of Everett too. He was interesting. The dialogue in this book is VERY realistic. The writing has a good amount of detail, and every question in this book was answered (except one, but that is one that comes into the mind at the end of the book – “Will they go back?”). The plot is very exciting and awesome! I like how the army that Holly leads (because she’s an Adept) executes their rescue mission. The world takes place in a medieval period, my favorite time (next comes Civil War-period and then…) I like the magical twist on the standard “Knights in shining armor”! All the mystical creatures are very cool! I like the Leogryph a lot! I think kids 8+ would like this book!

**NOTE I got a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Valen.
167 reviews6 followers
March 1, 2013
The Key & the Flame was one of those MG reads that are so wrought with magic & adventure that it makes you wish you were a kid again to be able to enjoy to it's fullest extent.

I love the world of Anglielle, for Caterer's description were lush and magical and they really contrasted with her descriptions of England seen through Holly's eyes who is bored. England is beautiful as is, but the world and the characters really come alive in this Narnialike Anglielle.

Holly, Ben and Everett were fun, contrasting characters that were very relatable to the mentality of a young kids. The writing was simple, yet effective and provided the reader with a sense of encompassing atmosphere. From the key, to veils of reality, to the doors and the choices Holly had to make to defeat Raethius, this story is one that I really enjoyed!

My biggest complaint would be the name of the world, Angelielle, because I just did not care for it much and the fact that Holly tended to act like brat. Those were my only real issues.

Profile Image for Ozana Ozzy.
341 reviews41 followers
April 27, 2013
Magic and adventures, girl Holly as a hero, her brother and friend as side characters. Book is full of adventures from the begining 'till end. What this MG book misses is that advantures are lukeworm, there is no energy in actions. Characters are interesting but for a book of 450 pages, they lack debth, backstory of it and history of parallel land Anglielle. After reading a book we didn't found out what danger is upon on the creatures that are in danger of some magician, which we didn't see at all and Holly needs free the country of Aglielle of him and from him. It will pass a long time for another character like Harry Potter and for now nothing can replace his fandome. I really expect it more of it and maybe, just maybe I'll read sequell but with this pace, sequell is out in summer of 2014., I'll forgot about this one 'till then. I must say..such money spent on advertiseing this book is no worth it. Books are best recomended from a fellow reader.
Profile Image for Jeff Raymond.
3,092 reviews180 followers
April 3, 2013
There's a tendency for middle grade fantasy to overstep itself a bit in an attempt to try and out-Potter the competition. The grand epic for this age group sometimes works ( Potter, Books of Beginning, Redwall), but The Key and The Flame ultimately misses.

The book was a bit of a struggle for me, with a fairly cookie-cutter premise. The plot itself is unmemorable enough to be something I needed a reminder for after reading it about seven months ago. Not always a good sign.

People seem to like this, so it may just be that my standards are quite high for the genre and the age group.
Profile Image for Demitria Lunetta.
Author 50 books901 followers
April 17, 2013
Recommended for fans of: MG Fantasy

Any child who loves fantasy will love this book. There’s a definite nod to the Narnia books, but Caterer makes Anglielle wonderfully unique. The POV changes from the smart, plucky Holly to the conflicted Everett, which gives the story more depth, as Everett isn’t exactly the perfect hero. I really like how Holly is untrusting at first, unsure of who is on her side, instead of taking giant leaps of faith common in MG Fantasy. The end also leaves the series wide open and makes you eager to read the next book.
Profile Image for J. Mann.
Author 10 books69 followers
January 7, 2016
Holly Shepard is firmly convinced that she is ordinary. She is about to be un-convinced. When a move to England uproots her from her ordinary life...things begin to head in an extraordinary direction. Her new neighbor gives her a strange gift of a key. This key unlocks some interesting fauna. That fauna leads to an unexpected place where Holly is anything but ordinary. Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to wake up one day and find out that you may have the power to save worlds? Holly doesn't have to wonder. Read THE KEY & THE FLAME.
Profile Image for J.R. Johansson.
Author 9 books483 followers
April 6, 2013
The Key & The Flame is a gorgeously fun romp through a world bursting with imagination, magic & mystery. I loved it!
Profile Image for Nancy Cavanaugh.
Author 6 books115 followers
July 12, 2013
A fantasy middle graders will love! Plenty of action, adventure and suspense with characters who will make readers smile!
Profile Image for Autumn Nester.
302 reviews
March 15, 2020
This was the first middle grade that I have read in a while, and it was really good. A lot of the tropes that I don't like about YA books were actually the opposite of what was in this book. The characters also felt more realistic, although older than their ages were said to be in the book. Like I have never seen a character with allergies before. That was such a good touch, and the author didn't use it at one point and completely disregard it at others, so I enjoyed that. It did remind me a little of Narnia the way that the back said that it would because of the whole going through to a whole new world and whatnot, so that is spot on. And can I just say, I LOVE NARNIA!!! This was absolutely a book geared towards me and happy that I read it.
Profile Image for Leasha.
136 reviews1 follower
June 24, 2017
Despite all of the fun things about this book, the inconsistencies in Holly's character constantly pulled me out of the story, and left me unable to get absorbed into it. The quality of middle-grade fiction depends greatly on the strength of the protagonist's voice, and Holly was too inconsistent to be believable. In many of her actions and words, she's every inch the extraordinarily ordinary 11-year old she's presented as. Often however, it's impossible to believe her words could come from the kind of kid she supposedly is. Her voice as protagonist it largely unsuccessful, and that makes it difficult for the book to succeed as a whole.
Profile Image for Nameless.
191 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2019
3.7⭐ but rounding it up to a 4.
It just feels wrong to give it 3 when I didn't expect to find this book as interesting as it is.
This was an action packed book which I thought was too childish for me but no it was still fun! I'm excited to read another part soon and find out more about Holly's adventures.
Profile Image for Amita.
265 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2022
The ending is so weirdly abrupt lmao but this was decent, if somewhat long. The wand-crafting part was cool af, definitely the best scene.

2022 popsugar reading challenge: A book you know nothing about
Profile Image for Jacqui.
181 reviews6 followers
November 21, 2018
3.5 stars. It was a fun, magical read but it felt a little messy near the end being that it was set up for a sequel... And also not. Fun though!
Profile Image for Jayce Senter.
265 reviews10 followers
April 7, 2014
AR level: 4.9

Grade appropriate: 4th and up

I was so excited about this book when I picked it up. (I usually don't start anything I'm not excited about...) And the beginning was good. I liked Holly. She was relateable and realistic. I loved the little village that they move to in England. The setting was charming and I was dying to visit. But as soon as they step through the tree into the alternate world I was gone. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Fantasy fan. I love it! But this world... I didn't love it. It had plenty of action so that seems good, but I think the biggest problem was that I had no desire to be in that world. As a result I had no desire to be in the book. I kept putting it down and reading other things (because I actually could escape the miserable world inside the tree even though it took the characters FOREVER to get out.)

Overall: 2/5

Creativity: 2/5-- It reminded me a lot of Narnia. Even down to Everett falling for the tricks of the Elemental (fairy).

Characters: 3/5-- I liked the characters ok, but had no real connection.

Engrossing: 1/5-- I kept putting it down to escape!

Writing: 3/5-- The writing actually was fine. The descriptions were detailed but not too much. The English countryside where the kids move was so charming. I was dying to pick up my family and move right away. The problem wasn't that I couldn't picture the fantasy world, but just that I didn't like it.

Appeal to kids: 1/5-- Not a single child has picked it up even though it's been sitting on my "new books" shelf for a week. I have a hard time selling it too, because I didn't like it.

Appropriate length to tell the story: 2/5-- LONG

Language: none

Sexuality: none

Violence: mild, fighting between good magical creatures and the king's army.

Drugs/Alcohol: none
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 6 books28 followers
July 26, 2013
Holly is a young girl who is a dreamer. We can all relate to that on some level. Those of us obsessed with books, especially in the realm of fantasy, have a bit of the dreamer inside of us, right? We read to travel to distant faraway places that could never really exist in the world in which we live. Or could they?

This story takes us on an adventure like few others. A young girl, and inadvertently her brother and a friend, travel through a tree in the forest and end up in a place that is strange and familiar all at the same time. And what of the mysterious key and how she came to possess it? How did Mr. Galloway know that she would be the best one to wield it's magic?

The world building in this story is well thought out, and the scenarios are exciting and interesting enough to keep the reader interested. But at the same time, there are a lot of unanswered questions that are raised in the story itself. How did Mr. Galloway come to choose to give Holly the key? How exactly did it come to pass that all of the Exiles and the like knew that Holly really was of the world that they knew and could do the things they wanted her to do? And what happens after the story? Will there be more in the story from this author? Will our questions ever be answered?

Usually this would be the point in the review where I would comment on the mechanical portion of the writing, but as I received an eARC of the book, I try to stay away from commenting on the editing and the like as it was not a finished copy and may not have been edited yet. The writer does show promise, though, and I look forward to more of the same in the future.
Profile Image for Nicole.
293 reviews20 followers
January 15, 2014
The Key & the Flame by Claire M. Caterer
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013
469 pages
Recommended for grades 4-6

As I was moving through this story I had just the right student in mind to give it to next. Because this book is certainly not for the average reader, this book is one for our readers that love getting lost in a book, the longer-the better. And my little Harry Potter loving reader will have fun with this hefty fantasy.

I loved the beginning of this book. A family moves to the English countryside for a summer, a key is bestowed on a young girl, and time/dimension travel commences. Things then became almost tiresome for me as I read hundreds of pages about three children trying to find their way back home. But even though I found myself bogged down, I think the story will still be plenty fun for kids.
257 reviews1 follower
July 31, 2014
I wanted to put this book down over and over. I just could not get any reading momentum going with the story. A girl, Holly, is given a key that unlocks a passage to another world, and she travels there with her brother and another boy. The new world is part medieval, part fantasy (unicorns, fairy people...). There were too many characters for me. I couldn't get interested in any one person. Holly is always talking about what she is unable to do, and I never feel like there is a good turning point where she accepts her role in the story and grows into a strong character. Too many side stories. Too many random obstacles for the characters.
Profile Image for Sonja P..
1,698 reviews4 followers
August 25, 2013
*Sigh*. I wanted to like this, but it felt a little too derivative. Starts off in a magical wood that goes other places and has a somewhat Edmund character, along with the "we can get back a different way" and wise and old guardian who extends hope in the "real world?" HMMMMMMM. I mean, maybe if I hadn't read Narnia till the cover fell off of each edition, but as it is, it just reminded me of my childhood joy of discovering the wardrobe for the first time...and made me wish this was half as magical.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
430 reviews25 followers
September 26, 2013
This was a pretty good book. The plot was engaging and the characters were enjoyable. I especially liked Jade. I really liked the mythology and world of Angielle. The Shakespearean English that the inhabitants of Angielle spoke in gave me joy as I read. It was very delightful.I found Everett's jealousy of Holly realistic, but also very annoying. I didn't really like his character, and it also annoys me that he stole the wand. That's just me though. The book is wonderful and I definitely recommend it.
Profile Image for Elisheva.
21 reviews
August 21, 2015
This was a pretty good read. However, a lot of the elements felt (to me, at least), recycled. Maybe this is simply because I've read a good quantity of fantasy, but the story didn't come across as being very original.
There wasn't much depth as far as the characters, and the setting/minor characters seemed reused. I did like the idea of the key changing into something else when it left out world. Aside from that though, I found nothing particularly memorable about this one. I may or may not pick up the sequel; we'll see.
Profile Image for Polly Holyoke.
Author 9 books369 followers
February 1, 2014
This is one terrific debut fantasy for middlegrade readers. I loved Holly and the wonderful and quirky collection of magical animals who help her to achieve her quest. The world building was excellent, particularly the transitions between the two worlds. I also liked the way she handled sibling rivilries and conflicts between Holly and her brothers. I was rooting for this courageous and resourceful heroine and hoping she would triumph, and I think many young readers will as well.
Profile Image for Kim Briggs.
Author 10 books54 followers
November 25, 2013
When I was 12, I fell in love with medieval tales after reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White. This year I fell in love all over again. The Key & The Flame by Claire Caterer is a modern spin on medieval times with knights, swords, and magic. I was hooked by the first page and could not put it down. Caterer's delivery of Middle English entertains without a heavy hand. I recommend The Key & The Flame to any reader searching for adventure. Loved it!!!
Profile Image for Erin Pauley.
179 reviews
March 12, 2014
Holly Shepard wants an adventure and she actually ends up finding one. I enjoyed the story but thought the book was a little slow moving. The world created by Caterer was fun but not as fantastical as I was hoping it would be. The only thing I found to be truly magical was the golden salamander and the wandwright. I would recommend it but it certainly wasn't up there with similar stories like Inkheart or 13 Treasures.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 53 reviews

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