Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

The Book of Fires: A NovelFrom the Inside Flap:

It is 1752. Winter is approaching, and two secrets - an unwanted pregnancy and a theft - drive seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel to run away from her home in rural Sussex. Lost and frightened as night descends on the menacing streets of London, she is drawn to a curious sign depicting a man holding a star. It is the home of Mr. J. Blackclock, a brooding fireworks maker who is grieving for his recently deceased wife. He hires Agnes as his apprentice, and as she learns to make rockets, portfires and fiery rain, she slowly gains the laconic Blacklock's trust. He initiates her into his peculiar art and sparks in her a shared obsession for creating the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen.

But her condition is becoming harder to conceal, and through it all, the clock is ticking - for Agnes's secret will not stay hidden forever. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and she conceives of a plan that could save her. But why does Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr. Soul? And what is Blacklock hiding from her? Could he be on the brink of a discovery that will change pyrotechny forever? A summer storm is brewing - but Agnes has no idea that her mysterious mentor has been watching her, and hatching plans of his own.

The Book of Fires vividly evokes a dark bygone world and offers a masterful portrayal of a relationship as mysterious and tempestuous as any the Brontes imagined. Jane Borodale's portrait of 1750s London is unforgettable, from the grimy streets to the inner workings of a household where little is as it seems. Beautifully written, complex and layered, The Book of Fires is a captivating debut of fireworks, redemption, and the strange alchemy that will forever change the fortunes of a young woman once bound for ruin.

Sounds like a great tale of misfortune, mysterious secrets and love, doesn't it?

Well, it's really not. That's an excellent synopsis; who wouldn't buy the book based on that description? Unfortunately, the inside flap is much more exciting than the book itself, and rather misleading, though I won't give away the plot by elaborating on the details.

I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it featured on another blog and was so excited when I won a copy, but overall I was disappointed with it. It's a very well written book; I loved the descriptiveness of it and learning how fireworks were made in 18th century London was great. Agnes is also a very likeable heroine and it's easy to get swept into her life, but the story didn't have enough "meat" for me, and that problem was compounded by an unexpected twist that made the ending not at all what I was expecting or hoping for, and I felt it wrapped things up just a little too conveniently. However, I think this author has potential and I would read more from her if forthcoming novels have more engaging plots.

Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

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