"A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and southe of the mountains," widowed Lalchand the fire-worker maker has a daughter, Lila, who wants to follow in his footsteps. She learns how to make some of the simpler fireworks, but her father thinks making it her trade would be a bad idea. Lila's best friend is Chulak, a servant of the king who takes care of his white elephant Hamlet and is the only one who knows Hamlet can talk. Chulak tricks Lalchand into telling him how one truly becomes a firework-maker (you have to go to the Grotto of Razvani the Fire-Fiend, in the heart of Mount Merapi, and exchange 3 Gifts for royal sulphur), and soon Lila is off on her journey. But Chulak learns he didn't give her complete instructions, and he races off with Hamlet, the two of them going AWOL, to save and help her. Meanwhile, Lalchand has taken the blame for the disappearance of the king's prized white elephant and is sentenced to death. When Lila gets back from her mountain trip, the king say he will spare her father's life if he and she can win the fireworks competition against the greatest makers on Earth, the following week. Pullman's book for children is a wondrous and silly delight for grownups as well.
This report prepared by David Loftus