19 Dec 2010

Review: "The Book of Fires" - Smouldering

I picked up "The Book of Fires" at a Waterstones in Twickenham some months ago while out on a long walk. They had one of those "buy 3 for the price of 2" offers and as I wanted two of the books in the selection, I picked this historical novel by Jane Borodale as the third. Not really sure why but it had something.
The story is sets out in a poor village in Sussex where Agnes's family is struggling to make ends meet. For Agnes life has turned bleak as she has accidentally become pregnant without being married - a fate that could ruin her and her family. So when she finds the opportunity, she flees to London where she finds work for the pyrotechnician Mr. Blacklock. The household is dominated by a nosy and domineering housekeeper and a sour housemaid and the silent, introverted Mr. Blacklock. As the months pass, Agnes is struggling to find a solution to her predicament - what will happen when her pregnancy is discovered? How will she and her baby fare in the world? At the same time she discovers a passion and talent for making fireworks and she eagerly sucks up all knowledge that Mr. Blacklock imparts.

This is one of those tales where the drama is constantly lurking beneath the surface and I was constantly waiting for disaster to strike Agnes. The potential tragedy is smouldering in all corners of the story. As a character I found Agnes really easy to like and to get to know but the other characters never really came to life. They kept being a bit two-dimensional and I was really wanting to understand especially Mr. Blacklock better.
Agnes is a girl like you and me, a normal girl with a normal life who just happens to have fallen on hard times and who has to make the best of a bad situation. She is not fighting to come up in the world or to find love or fame or fortune. She is fighting to survive and to make a life for herself and the baby she is carrying. She is a real person with heart and a clever head.
The plotline is great and I loved the ending, loved it. I just wish that a bit more had been done to make the characters come to life and to invoke historical London. This book has some of the same qualities as "The Crimson Petal and The White" by Michel Faber but it lacks that magic which makes Faber's book a classic.

For a second opinion on this book see http://www.bookslut.com/fiction/2010_02_015801.php


  1. This has gone on my to-read list - your reviews always make me want the book!

    I got 'The Crimson Petal and The White' from the library last week, but it's size has been putting me off a bit. I think I will definitely give it a go over the holidays.

  2. Hi Sam, glad to hear you like my reviews :-) You should absolutely give "The Crimson Petal and the White" a chance, it is really good and I found it very moving.

  3. I think just by the cover alone I would have put that one on my reading list. Looks all historical and wonderful :)

    Glad to hear you did enjoy it!

  4. Thanks Iliana, it is a really pretty cover - that's what caught my attention :-)