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The Book of Fires: A Novel Hardcover – January 21, 2010
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Top customer reviews
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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.
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.
Set in London in the mid 1700's, it is a timepiece story about fireworks. For me, an unusual subject, but the author gives some history of the science of how fireworks came about. Her main character, Agnes, is drawn to fire and after an incident at home in the country, she leaves for London to hide her shame and save her family any embarassment. Meeting a woman on the ride to London who refers her to a place to stay and by accident loses the address, she happens upon a sign advertising for house help and knocks on the door, thus avoiding a life of prostitution and instead finds a calling that she seems born for, fireworks.
The story covers her fear of discovery and the secret she hides, her relationship with the other women of the household and her employer, Mr. John Blacklock, who hires her not for house work but as an assistant to his making of fireworks. Though the story drags at times, it was still not a disappointment nor a waste of time to read. The ending was quite nice, though in an expected way, not what I had foreseen.
This is a debut and though I am prone to giving debut authors a little more leeway, it was an enjoyable read and would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fictions.