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The Book of Fires: A Novel Hardcover – January 21, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Julian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
"Julian Fellowes's Belgravia" by Julian Fellowes
From the creator and writer of Downton Abbey comes a grand historical novel, with hugely exciting twists and dramatic chapter endings. Learn more | See author page
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Borodale's enjoyable debut is the story of Agnes Trussel, who, in 1752, leaves the poverty-stricken countryside for London, intent on hiding her unwanted pregnancy and making a better life. On her journey, she meets Lettice Talbot, a beautiful young woman who promises to help her, but when Agnes loses track of her benefactress, she ends up as the apprentice to Mr. Blacklock, a moody pyrotechnist who is mourning his dead wife as he attempts to bring color to fireworks. Despite her difficulties with Blacklock's other domestic staff, Agnes grows to feel at home in London and enjoys her work, but she is constantly threatened by the imminent exposure of her pregnancy and haunted by the guilt of her theft of the stash of coins that funded her trip. This menacing mood is Borodale's greatest achievement: from the omnipresent hangings to the economic knife-edge upon which the working class lives, she builds a dark but human world that makes Agnes's plight deeply sympathetic. When the story is neatly tied up with an unexpected resolution to Agnes's problems, it's surprising but not unbelievable, capping off a delightfully diverting book. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Borodale deftly conjures up mid-eighteenth-century London in her spectacular debut. The premise is a familiar one—pregnant and unwed, an impoverished young county girl sets out for the big city desperately seeking to hide her disgrace—but the story that unfolds is also a fresh and fascinating investigation into the art and the science of pyrotechnics. When fortune lands desperate Agnes Trussel on the doorstep of an embittered fireworks maker, she becomes Mr. J. Blacklock’s apprentice. Teaching her the tricks of his trade, he also works feverishly on an innovative formula to infuse color into fireworks. As her condition becomes increasingly difficult to hide, a world rife with new possibilities seems to dangle just beyond her reach. In addition to her pregnancy, Agnes also harbors another shameful secret that threatens her precarious security and gnaws away at her soul. Readers who loved Jane Eyre will appreciate the atmosphere of tension and foreboding that permeates the narrative. --Margaret Flanagan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (January 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021062
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,197,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ferdy VINE VOICE on December 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was a big fan of "The Year of Wonders" which this book is being compared to. And, I must admit, it is reminiscent of that novel. A young girl finds herself pregnant and alone. Rather than face the shame and end up being forced to marry the lout who raped her, she flees to London with a handful of gold coins stolen from a dead woman. Now that is the way to start a novel.
The narrative is so descriptive that you feel immersed in the scenery of the time and place just as the narrator is.
Once in London, she escapes being a prostitute when she finds a job working with a fireworks maker. She continues to try and keep her secret but, in working together, she begins to trust. In the end, not only her secret is revealed.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, this is a wonderful novel. I think this story is much more optimistic than the reality of this era actually was for women. A naive country girl moving to London alone would most likely have ended up on the streets as a prostitute in order to survive or being kept in a workhouse. It would have been very unusual for a young woman to be hired as an apprentice to work with explosives. But this is a novel and the story line works in this context.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found the concept of this novel an interesting idea, but didn't love the way it was carried out. For much of the novel, it felt to me like Borodale got a little heavy-handed with all the minute details of a scene, which left the pace of the novel to suffer. It took 65 pages for Agnes to even get to the door of the fireworks shop for the first time!

I'm all for wonderful descriptions, but I like to see a good blend of nice visuals and well-paced movement in the plot. I don't need long descriptions of every little detail in a scene. I don't mind a gradual build in a story when it's so well done that it's virtually unnoticeable, but I think this one just moved a little too slow for me.That being said, I will say that I found the final few chapters offered much more than the rest of the novel, as far as good pace and interesting storyline twists.

I also found myself often mildly irritated by the main character, Agnes. That girl was a poster child for lousy life choices. And I just didn't find her that interesting. It wasn't only Agnes though -- I didn't really get attached to any of the characters. The closest was maybe near the end, when Mr. Blacklock's secret is revealed, then I had a moment of "awww, the heart that guy was hiding!"

And the fact that one of the book blurbs touted this as rivaling any Bronte work --- yeah, no. Not hardly.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Book of Fires takes us back to 18th century England. We are introduced to Agnes Trussel who is a 17-year-old living a simple country life. Agnes is raped and then finds herself pregnant. She runs away because she knows she will be forced to marry her rapist and she doesn’t want to shame her family. Agnes travels to London and is introduced to elements of it’s darker side. She is fortunate to find a respectable job making fireworks for Mr. Blacklock. What will happen once he finds out about her pregnancy? Will she wind up out on the streets and become a victim of London’s dark side? In a strange twist of fate her boss dies and a secret that will change her life is revealed. A fascinating book with a strong intelligent woman character and a happy ending.

I thought that this was well written and easy to follow. I liked the character Agnes. She is such an innocent, naive, victim of circumstances. While this book is not a major page turner, it has a really good story line. The ending is the best part of the book. It allows the reader to conclude why Mr. Blacklock did what he did. I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Agnes Trussel doesn't have much to look forward to. The She's been raped by a neighborhood thug and worse, she's pregnant as a result. Since the year is 1753,Agnes knows that she'll be beaten by her drunkard father and damned as a whore by the townspeople if word gets out. Her mother can't help, the poor woman is completely wasted by years of churning out one baby after another. When an aged neighbor dies and Agnes stumbles upon her small cache of gold coins, she finds the means to escape and runs off to London. I love books that bring us right into other peoples houses, show us what kind of furnishings they had, tell us about their dress and their food and their habits. The Book of Fires does this and thensome. It's a fascinating window into life in the mid-eighteenth century, from the villages around London to the city itself. London doesn't go easy on naive Agnes, who is nearly forced into prostitution and barely keeps herself out of the poorhouse before finding a trustworthy Londoner who gives her a job in his fireworks factory. London shares the spotlight with Agnes as the book's leading character. We get another amazingly detailed look at the hurly burly, the grit and the grime of the hub of the Empire. As Agnes begins her explosive apprenticeship, she becomes more and more interested in her employer, the enigmatic John Blacklock. Will Agnes' pregnancy be revealed? Will John turn her out into the streets? Can a woman succeed in the fireworks business? And what exactly is John hiding???? Saying more would spoil what turned out to be a good story on several levels. Read it for the glimpse into life in the Surrey countryside and on the teeming streets of London, read it to learn what life was like for women of the period, read it for the adventure and the romance. But do read it. It's a great book that practically begs for a comfortable chair, cup of tea, and warm blankey!
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