The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

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The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley
Reviewed by Madeline Wheatley
Summary: The Book of Fires is an absorbing historical novel set in 1752. It tells the story of seventeen year old Agnes Trussel who travels from rural Sussex to London carrying two dangerous secrets. Agnes' unusual life in London as assistant to a firework maker is vividly portrayed in this bittersweet tale.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Harper Press
ISBN: 978-0007305728

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Agnes Trussel leaves her home to save her family from the disgrace of learning that she has been raped and is carrying an illegitimate child. With limited options and in despair at her situation she takes money from the home of a neighbour to pay her way to London. Once there, her life as assistant to the dour John Blacklock, a firework maker, gives her security and a sense of worth. But she is sure that all she values is likely to be lost once her pregnancy and her status as a thief becomes known. The crux of her situation, and that of many women like her at the time, is well summarised in her thoughts: the child is almost all I have, I think. And its existence will ensure that anything else will be taken away from me.

Agnes leaps off the pages of this book as a living, breathing presence. The story is told from her point of view, and her confusion and fears alongside her naivety as a country girl adrift in London are well drawn. You can't help having an oh no, what's going to happen to her? moment when she meets a dubious overly helpful lady on the coach to London.

Agnes' early life in the countryside is central to her outlook, and her descriptions of most things link them to nature. In her eyes shoals of people pour in and out of London and the street noise is as loud as a river in full spate. The city of London is so clearly described that it's almost a major character in the book. Agnes' journey through the streets is filled with the sights, smells and sounds of this corkscrewing, burgeoning, raucous place of extremes. Her employer's home and workshop provide a contrasting quiet space, coated in the grime produced by mixing fireworks.

The head of the household, firework maker John Blacklock, has shades of Mr Rochester. Listen to him on the virtues of silence: I cannot abide chatter…I do not need the debris of your mind to furnish mine. His part in the story is intricately plotted and brings the book to a satisfying if surprising conclusion.

Although the pace slows in the middle of the book, the early scenes and moving ending make this a rewarding read. It is Jane Borodale's first novel, and I will be at the front of the queue to read the next one!

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Caroline Rance Kill-Grief is also set in the 1750's and has an equally evocative sense of place.

Buy The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale at

Buy The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale at


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