I really enjoyed this book! I soon became immersed in the fate of the characters as they faced challenges that apparently were faced in real life by the islanders of St Croix in the 18th century. The author's talent for the descriptive painted lively and interesting characters and places. The backdrop of the islands' sugar cane industry made for fascinating reading in this story of love entwined with a Caribbean island history.
This is both a historical novel and a love story. Set in the Danish West Indies during the 1870s, the novel tells of the unlikely love that blossomed between the protagonist, the Anglo-Dane Anna, and her black foreman, Sampson. It is told through four points of view or four voices – Anna’s, Sampson’s, Anna’s maid Ivy, and the black servant-cum-cook Emiline. Anna returns after many years to the Danish West Indies after her mother dies. It is a country she had loved and longed for those many years, and she looks forward to her return, but is met by an ailing father and an estate that is suffering big financial losses. Shortly after, her father dies, and Anna makes a disastrous marriage with Carl Pederson, their neighbor. It is then that she realizes her real feelings for Sam (Sampson) although they are oceans apart not just in status but in cultures too. This love story is set against the backdrop of the black labour uprising of 1878, from which the title takes its name. The love story is sensitively portrayed. Anna, the protagonist, is a woman ahead of her time who is not just against slavery but truly believes in the equality of man. Sam possesses those noble qualities like pragmatism, courage and self-awareness that any woman would admire. The two have some tender moments together, and although the times were such that a marriage between a black man and a white woman were well-nigh impossible, they cannot deny their feelings for each other. Indeed, the story is all the more poignant because of this very reason. The descriptions of nature and the surroundings take you to the heart of the story; the lush, tropical vegetation with its riot of colors, the crumbling estate echoing its former grandeur- all this is beautifully evoked. The story is replete with the sights, sounds and smells of the island. All the characters grow and change. Anna, from a plucky girl to a more mature woman who nevertheless holds on to her values and beliefs, Sam who acknowledges his feelings for his mistress but who has the self-awareness to realize how dangerous this liaison can be, Ivy who came prepared to hate the island but grew to love it, and Emiline who, under the firm yet kind supervision of Anna, changed from a disgruntled employee to a loyal and loving friend. The main characters are all driven by love, and the antagonists meet a just end with their policy of hatred. The one defect I find (and this is just my opinion) is that the four different voices makes reading this novel difficult. It is not a smooth read as, just as we are immersed in the life of one character, we abruptly switch to someone else’s point of view. I feel just two voices would have been enough to convey the essence of the story and push the plot forward. However, this is a debut novel I thoroughly enjoyed reading as it took me on a journey to a place and time I knew very little about. I would give it four stars.
Having not being familiar with the culture of St. Croix, I definitely scanned the glossary on the front of the book. When a story provides a glossary, I've learned to read it. The story, calling itself "Fireburn" is a reflection of the history of St. Croix, which did really take place. Gidley tells a great story, weaving the intricacies of history throughout. The characters and characterizations of them bring the reader right in the middle of the story, and feeling the sense of culture. Gidley paints beautiful words to show the story to the reader, and not just tell it.
I received this book free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. ~Amy's Bookshelf Reviews
Fireburn by Apple Gidley is a book which transports you completely and totally to another place and another time. Brilliantly evocative it moves you to tears as you find yourself living life on a Caribbean island over a century ago. Within a few chapters, due to the excellent descriptive nature of the book, you find yourself totally immersed in life on a Caribbean island with all of the issues of colour and status accurately and intelligently handled. The characters truly come alive and due to the fast pace, the fact that it is a page turner, it is hard to put down, as the lives of different characters are skillfully weaved together. As someone living on a different Caribbean island I could identify with many of the people, the cuisine, flowers, nature and challenges. Beautifully written, Fireburn cannot help but make you feel both sadness and joy and brings with it an in depth understanding of Caribbean life in the 1800s. I quite simply did not want it to end.
As a lover of good romance novels I pre-ordered my copy of this book and couldn’t wait to read it….I was not disappointed! This is not just a captivating historical romance. It’s a fast-paced and exciting ‘page-turner’ based on solid research into one of the most interesting periods in Caribbean history. How pleasantly surprised was I to find a thoughtful, well-researched and exciting tale filled with characters I immediately fell in love with (or hated!) and events which kept me up far into the night just to see how things turned out! For who has not been enthralled by the charm and mystery of the Caribbean, it’s beautiful and powerful natural phenomena, its unique mysticism and it’s colourful turbulent past? Yes, there is a beautiful, strong-willed and capable heroine, and yes, there is a tall, strong, handsome and slightly mysterious hero. But the path of their blossoming relationship is tangled with personal tragedy, devastating natural and historical events and the ever present challenges of social convention. An obvious love of this extraordinary part of the world has lent the author descriptive wings as she draws us to the powerful beauty of the island of St Croix. The characters are cleverly endeared to us as they take turns to reveal the story in their own words. The twists and turns of the plot, wrapped around the turbulent events unique to it’s setting, make for an exciting and absorbing read.
Fireburn is a compelling, meticulously researched novel, steeped in rich Caribbean history and with enough drama and romance to please the most ardent historical fiction fan. Observed from four diverse viewpoints during turbulent times on the beguiling island of St. Croix, Apple Gidley vividly showcases an era when Victorian inequities of class and colour are rampant, and women are supposed to know their place. This absorbing tale should put the US Virgin Islands on the map once and for all.
Loved, loved, loved this book. Apple demonstrates yet again what an artful and talented writer she is. Her descriptions and attention to historical details take the reader back in time and immerse you in an era that few readers know about. Her characters are well developed and each has a such a unique voice they seem to jump right off the pages and will stay in your mind long after you finish reading. My greatest sorrow is that I have reached the end and must wait impatiently for the next journey.
It has been a delightful read! The characters are sweet and compelling, with the exception of the ones that are supposed to be vile, which they are. A well written and well researched story that I previously knew nothing about. It drew me in and led me down a path that I enjoyed following. Delightful! I look forward to reading a sequel and seeing it on the Big Screen.