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Review: The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale

Pages: 368
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Viking)

How I acquired my copy: ARC sent via the publisher
The Book of Fires is the story of Agnes Trussel, a teenage girl from the country who becomes pregnant and, stealing coins from her dead neighbor, runs away to London, where she obtains a job as assistant to a fireworks maker, John Blacklock. The novel covers the course of Agnes's pregnancy, from late 1752 to early 1753.

I both like and dislike this novel, which I know is a contradiction—much like the character of Agnes Trussell. I think my biggest problem with this novel is that I didn’t totally believe her as a narrator—she’s an uneducated teenager from the country, yet she speaks in this upper class voice. On one hand, she’s intelligent, but on the other, she’s so incredibly stupid about human nature. Did she really think that nobody in John Blacklock’s house would notice that she was pregnant? Did she really think that her plan regarding Cornelius Soul would work out? How could she not figure out from the get-go what Lettice Talbot’s profession is? Is she really that ignorant of The Facts of Life? Agnes is unfortunately not the most compelling of narrators (like Bessy from The Observations, for example), and I think the book would have been better served if the narrator had been omniscient. In fact, some of the other characters in the book, specifically Blacklock, turned out to be far more interesting to me.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the plot of this novel. It’s unique and interesting, and it held my interest right from the first sentence to the last. The twist at the end is quite good, too. Jane Borodale is clearly a good writer, and she certainly has a poetic way with words. If she’d worked a little more on her narrator, this book would be excellent.

Also reviewed by: Reading the Past, Hey Lady! Whatcha Reading?


Anonymous said…
This is on my TBR list, after I saw it in a Waterstone's. I hate it when narrators are either awfully dumb or, especially in period work, not very period! This sounds like a bust. Sorry!

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