White Heat (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by K M Grant
|White Heat (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by K M Grant|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The middle book of a historical trilogy for the teen reader, with the heroes of the first volume divided, religious strife still in the land, and a Blue Flame that still has to define its own purpose. This is more satisfying than the original and has some meaty and satisfying action.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 272||Date: April 2009|
Meet the Occitane. No, not a zit cream, but a region of France, here narrating her own story of her 13th century history, when her territory was overflowing with humans committing religious persecution and death against each other. The battles are mostly between Cathars and Catholics – we've had the Albigensian Crusades (yes, I looked them up) and still conflict is rife.
The spirit of the region is also embodied by a blue fire, an eternal flame carried around in a wooden box, of all things. It currently is being guarded by Parsifal, a knight who has seen better days, and Raimon, a lowly but gallant young lad, and neither of them know what to do with the Flame. The love of Raimon's life is Yolanda, a count's daughter, whose older brother, now in power, is intent on parcelling the land off and giving it to the invading French king, Louis, to keep it secure and pacified. Yolanda is currently being delivered by the brother to the marital arms of Sir Hugh des Arcis. We see her arriving horrified in Paris, her betrothal imminent, and only able to gather a wild Muslim girl into her fold.
Everybody wants the Flame, everyone has their own idea of what makes for a peaceful or successful life. Everybody is acting contrary to everyone else. Is this book, then, a fantasy fiction, where the implausible Fire (based on a real-life semi-mythic tresor cathar) is instigator of so much action? Is it a historical fiction scuppered by the intrusion of the unlikely narrator and too many scenes relying on Yolanda's dog? Is it a metaphor for modern religious conflict?
All the questions were with me after reading the first book in this series, Blue Flame (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by Katie Grant, and I agree with my colleague at the Bookbag who said that it was a flawed success, which took some time to get going. Luckily for readers of this book, the narrative is continuing apace, and in truth the asking of such questions is disturbed by the much more fluid action, which can abandon the burgeoning love and all the other diversions of book one and get to the grist of the story.
I have said before on this site that historical fiction can work successfully as fantasy writing, given a distance in age, circumstance, lifestyle and motive for the characters. Such is the case here – the fantasy, if it is such, works very well, with a fully realised world of religion and conflict for the characters to travel through. The odd detail picks the sense of fantasy out – the siege, the people starving themselves due to religion, the men hiding out in deserted abbeys, the many horse-ridden errands.
The historical fiction I think is a little more awkward, given that everyone is a fictionalised character, and if I'm not mistaken the number of the Louis involved is never divulged. Still, again the detail goes into the setting and it comes out strongly historical – I believe the details of landscape and so on of what could have happened herein.
And, despite the new character of Laila, I believe the question of this being a religious metaphor is less to the fore than with book one. That ended with Parsifal and Romain seeming to set up a sort of atheist popular peoples' front for the beleaguered and persecuted.
Here the book is more agreeably sticking to what is evolving into a quite nicely judged historical saga with a sense of the fabulous. It would be a very plucky film producer to take on the two books we have had so far of this trilogy – the main setting of the count's castle first in ruin, then pristine, then now… well, that would be telling. I only mention that to credit the very filmic nature of the narration, where we get a very finely defined mental image of the characters, their natural and manmade surroundings.
Also their inner life comes through, with everyone having a necessarily charged attitude, due to the nature of the religious setting and time of heightened unease. Some might find the book a little dry for engaging in such an unusual background and featuring what it does, and the vocabulary is rather diverse for the under-11s, but I think on the whole it works, and provides for a worthwhile purchase.
The biggest flaw for this book remains the prequel, which really ought to be read first – and to repeat, that needs patience before one can call oneself immersed. Firmly within these pages there is little for the fan of the series to be dissatisfied with at all – while we know from experience the book will end inconclusively we are very happy to encounter all the twists and turns, action and debate, that come before it. It suggests a very fine final book sometime in 2009, which I would not at all be persuaded against reading.
I would like to thank Quercus for sending us a review copy.
Readers who like this book might alos enjoy Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
You can read more book reviews or buy White Heat (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by K M Grant at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy White Heat (Perfect Fire Trilogy) by K M Grant at Amazon.com.
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