The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale
Reminiscent of Year of Wonders, a captivating debut novel of fireworks, fortune, and a young woman’s redemption
It is 1752 and seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel arrives in London pregnant with an unwanted child. Lost and frightened, she finds herself at the home of Mr. J. Blacklock, a brooding fireworks maker who hires Agnes as an apprentice. As she learns to make rockets, portfires, and fiery rain, she slowly gains his trust and joins his quest to make the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen.
Jane Borodale offers a masterful portrayal of a relationship as mysterious and tempestuous as any of the Brontës conceived. Her portrait of 1750s London is unforgettable, from the grimy streets to the inner workings of a household where little is as it seems. Through it all, the clock is ticking, for Agnes’s secret will not stay secret forever.
Deeply atmospheric and intimately told from Agnes’s perspective, The Book of Fires will appeal to readers of Geraldine Brooks, Sarah Waters, Sheri Holman, and Michel Faber.
One of the things I love about my reading list is how it lets me examine my past as if it were rings in a tree trunk—this book was added because I wanted to learn more about film, this because I read Bitchfest, so on and so forth. This book is one of the recommendations I picked up during my post-high school trip to England and Ireland. Following my mother through an enormous department store in London, I stumbled across a few book displays and immediately took notes. This was one of those notes. I am tentative, however—Borodale ended up giving a positive blurb to A Discovery of Witches, which… well, let’s just say I didn’t care for it.
Fleur Fisher at Fleur Fisher in her world found it lacked character development and Agnes’ concealment of her pregnancy was unbelievable. Helen at She Reads Novels disliked the narrative style—first person present tense—and couldn’t engage with any of the characters, although she points out that the final chapters are quite good. Heather at Books and Quilts found it “thought provoking“. Beth at Beth Fish Reads enjoyed it, although she felt it could have used an epilogue.
The Book of Fires was published on January 21, 2010.