The Book of Fires

The Book of Fires

by Jane Borodale

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Overview

"A spectacular debut" (Booklist) reminiscent of Geraldine Brook's Year of Wonders.

It is 1752, and seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel is pregnant with an unwanted child. Facing certain misery at home, she flees rural Sussex for London. Overwhelmed by the crowded, grim streets, Agnes finds herself at the home of Mr. J. Blacklock, a brooding fireworks maker who hires her as an apprentice. As she learns to make joins his quest to make the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Agnes's secret-but her mysterious mentor is hatching plans of his own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143118480
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/28/2010
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 543,098
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Jane Borodale is currently Leverhulme Artist-in-Residence at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Sussex, England. This is her first novel.

What People are Saying About This

Lauren Groff

"Jane Borodale's first novel contains a wondrous and utterly believable world built by the subtle accretion of precise detail. Young Agnes Trussel is a clever and innocent heroine. I found myself cheering when, by the end, she-and the very novel that contains her story-burst into new and luminous life."--(Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton)

Brunonia Barry

"Jane Borodale's captivating debut novel carried me back to a world where even strong young women had few options. Her astonishing descriptions of 18th-century England, the creation of fireworks, and the brave and determined Agnes held me happily captive there for days, and, even now, have not released their hold on me. Agnes Trussel is sure to become one of 21st-century literature's most enduring characters."--(Brunonia Barry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lace Reader)

Anne Easter Smith

"Jane Borodale has a way with words that had me smelling the foul streets of 18th-century London and tasting the strange powders that went into making John Blacklock's fireworks. The story of the apprentice Agnes learning from the master Blacklock is reminiscent of The Girl with the Pearl Earring."--(Anne Easter Smith, author of A Rose for the Crown and The King's Grace)

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

It is November 1752, and Agnes—the daughter of a poor laboring family living in the English countryside—is helping in preparations for their annual pig slaughter. While she works, Agnes muses, “I do what girls do: stir the pots, feed the hens, slap the wind from the babies, make soap, make threepence go further” (p. 4). Agnes is a skilled weaver gifted with both beauty and natural intelligence but knows she can expect little out of life beyond a repetition of her mother’s bleak existence—until an act of brutality causes her to leave everything she knows behind.

Two months earlier, Agnes had been accosted by John Glincy, a fellow villager and her would-be suitor. Agnes is unsure if she somehow invited the attack and tells no one—even after she realizes she is pregnant. Her mother is too preoccupied with her own many cares to notice the subtle changes in her daughter, but Agnes knows her condition cannot go undetected for long. When she unexpectedly stumbles upon a recently deceased neighbor (and her jar of gold coins) she knows she has found the means to spare her family from disgrace and set herself free.

In the lull following a local feast, Agnes slips away to catch the carrier to London. Her relief, however, is short-lived. She has escaped certain unhappiness only to expose herself to a host of unknown dangers, including the threat of the gallows, should her theft be discovered. Despite her attempts to keep a low profile, Agnes attracts the attentions of Lettice Talbot, an engaging and well-dressed fellow passenger.

At first, Agnes is grateful to be taken under the sophisticated young woman’s protection. But again, relief turns to despair when the two are separated in the London bustle and she loses the slip of paper bearing the name of her new friend’s lodging house. Terrified and alone as night begins to fall on the menacing streets of London, Agnes finds herself drawn to “a curious sign . . . a painted picture of a squat man covered in leaves holding a bright star” (p. 65).

The sign advertises the establishment of Mr. J. Blacklock, a brooding widower and maker of fireworks. Emboldened by fear, Agnes convinces him to give her work, and she becomes his assistant. The work is exacting but holds her in thrall. Her nimble fingers and eagerness to learn soon make her indispensable to Blacklock, and she settles into his peculiar household. While hiding the pregnancy as best she can, Agnes desperately schemes to save herself from ruin and find Lettice, who, it turns out, is not at all what she seems. But it is Blacklock’s own secrets that will change Agnes’s life forever.

Following the wondrous journey of one remarkable young woman’s coming-of-age in eighteenth-century England, The Book of Fires will captivate anyone who enjoys intelligent and meticulously researched historical fiction. Jane Borodale’s stunning literary debut is an evocative tale filled with mystery and brilliance.

 


ABOUT JANE BORODALE

Jane Borodale is an artist and writer. She is currently Leverhulme Artist in Residence at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Sussex and lives in the West Country with her husband and two children. This is her first novel.

 


A CONVERSATION WITH JANE BORODALE

Q. You have a fine arts background, including a master’s degree in site-specific sculpture. Is there a relationship between your artwork and your writing?

I think I’m always trying to set up resonances between atmospheres or textures, whatever the method or medium. I’m interested in exploring the way that our emotional experience is at least partly shaped by the physicality and the sensual detail of the world we encounter. While at art school I began writing as a key component for my sculptural work. I’ve made sculptures or installations with peat, plant oil, gold leaf, lime, latex, printing ink, all in conjunction with short passages of narrative text or the spoken voice.

Q. Have fireworks ever played a role in your artwork?

No! But fire has, as a source of light and energy. Fire offers a metaphor for so much. And I’ve always been intrigued by chemistry, by the way that one substance can be transformed by being juxtaposed or combined with another, that near-alchemical potency of materials.

Q. You preface the book “with thoughts spared for all those condemned to death by hanging at Tyburn.” Were they your primary inspiration for Agnes’s story? Is she modeled on any historical figures or literary heroines?

I was appalled by the severity of punishment dealt in the eighteenth century for even very minor crimes, and as I wrote I found increasingly that I felt for the underdog, for those without property or opportunity against whom the odds were gravely stacked. I drew on real trials at the Old Bailey, the hangings of real individuals, for those described in Mrs. Blight’s pamphlets, and it felt very important to acknowledge their stories, which I called attention to not for the purposes of entertainment but as a stark reminder of how recently it was that society valued property above human life.

I am interested in archetypes, and in some ways Agnes’s plight is a familiar tale—women have always faced those adverse conditions. But her character came to me from the Sussex landscape that she grew up in. The distinctive qualities of the chalk downland—their uncompromising plainness of beauty and quiet strength—seemed to suggest how she might be, though I’m not sure that I was fully aware of it until I’d finished the first draft.

Q. Your novel has tremendous historical verisimilitude. Clearly, you’ve studied the era. What was the most interesting thing you uncovered in the course of your research?

I found the richness of the history of the development of pyrotechny utterly fascinating. For centuries fireworks had burned with what was essentially white fire, but early pyrotechnists constantly sought the means to produce a greater variety of flames and sparks, and colored fire. With a fuller understanding of chemistry gathering pace in the second half of the century (including the discovery of the volatile potassium chlorate in the 1780s, which finally made a range of colored fire possible), it must have been a thrilling, challenging time to be a pyrotechnist. So much of it is left to the imagination to conjure as few formulae were written down, but there are early-nineteenth-century works that build on this knowledge, and it was exciting to be able to look at printed pamphlets in the British Library—dog-eared working books with dirty thumbprints, their devisers all borrowed ideas and methods from each other, often at the expense of accuracy.

Q. Joe Thomazin is a literally mute but persistent presence throughout the novel. What is his role?

He is the silent watcher—a conscience embodied and the small wild spirit that remains as other or unknown until he breaks out into childishness near the end. He is there to highlight Agnes’s maternal instinct and to cast light on another outcome for unwanted children of the period. And as the close observer of all that occurs in the workshop, Joe Thomazin also holds the key to a deeper understanding of Blacklock’s skills and of his character, which will be a valuable asset to Agnes in the future.

Q. The relationship between Agnes and Blacklock is masterfully portrayed. Could you give us some insight into how you see Blacklock’s feelings for Agnes evolve over the course of the novel?

John Blacklock recognizes something in Agnes right from the start when she turns up on his doorstep. At first he believes that she reminds him of his dead wife, and then gradually he comes to see something of himself in her, not in a narcissistic way, but as a kindred spirit. Her sudden arrival and then her persistent, inquisitive nature jolts him out of his state of grief and kindles a need for progress inside him. Their developing relationship is articulated through the progress of their pyrotechny work while their mutual reserve and emotional clumsiness present a series of missed opportunities for their love to blossom.

Q. You eschew a traditional romantic ending for Agnes. Why? Do you believe that, in her time, at least, a single woman could attain greater success and happiness?

First I would say that I’m not always in favor of neatness at the end of stories— it can feel faintly untruthful and not enough like life. That was my primary motivation for the conclusion (or beginning) that I give to Agnes. And because a new love that is cut short can always remain perfect and untouchable in memory, perhaps it was more of a gift for Agnes that way. The inner, animal experience of love and its emotional costs or rewards presumably hasn’t changed so very much through the centuries. But practically speaking, and specifically in terms of fulfillment in business and enterprise, marriage in the eighteenth century had very different ramifications for women. Married and with husband alive the property of the wife became automatically his, or at least under his legal control. But widowhood crucially gave wives freedom—full and independent control over their own property and respect and status in society that they would never have had unwed. I was surprised to discover that there were women, particularly at the lower rungs of the middle classes, who had control of their own businesses, and not necessarily limited to those associated with female activity, such as dressmaking or laundry. I came across tantalizing mentions of women like Mary Clitherow, a firework maker in London, and Elizabeth Grief, a master gunflint maker in Suffolk, who took an apprentice. Here and there, women were already in occupations that might be thought of as traditionally male.

Q. Who are some of your literary influences?

Deep-seated literary influences probably come from what is read as a teenager, when the internal doors are wide open. Those are the books that settle in you, as a kind of silt that gets into your being, no matter how hard you might try to reject or deny them later. Key books for me were by Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence for the spirit of place that they convey, Virginia Woolf for her internal human complexity, John Keats for his delight in the physical world combined with that melancholic sense of longing, Federico García Lorca for his rhythm and sense of the darkness of nature and of the spirit and his idea of duende. Also Alexander Pushkin, Geoffrey Hill, David Jones. Now, though, when I’m thinking of structure I look to the music of Bach. Visual artists whose work I respect would include Joseph Beuys, Rebecca Horn, Wolfgang Laib, and Anish Kapoor, who use the poetry of substances or matter to set up resonances or narrative patterns. Also writers who examine the overlap between the physical world and that of the imagination or the emotions, such as the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, or the concrete poets of the 1950s, through to Ian Hamilton Finlay, who placed words directly into the landscape itself. But possibly my greatest debt is to C. T. Onions, editor of the 1947 edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which my husband bought me in a secondhand bookshop years ago, as scarcely a day goes by without my referring to it.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • Discuss the symbolism of the Trussels’ pig.
  • Does John Glincy—or any man who forcibly impregnates a woman—have a just claim over the child?
  • What do you think might have happened to Agnes had she not lost Lettice Talbot’s address? Did Lettice’s occupation condemn her to her tragic end or was she just a victim of unfortunate circumstances?
  • Mrs. Blight amuses herself by reading and gossiping about the execution of criminals at Tyburn, but she was not alone. Cheering crowds attended most of the hangings, and many more followed the proceedings. What, if anything, has changed in society so that this sort of behavior is now considered ghoulish and unsavory?
  • Today, we take fireworks for granted. But in Agnes’s time, they were magical spectacles reserved only for the very rich. Is there anything comparable in contemporary life or has entertainment—if not society itself—become more egalitarian?
  • Would Agnes have been happier if she’d successfully tricked Cornelius Soul into marrying her or if she’d remained in Sussex and married John Glincy?
  • Does the fact that Mrs. Mellin was dead and/or that the coins were counterfeit affect your opinion of Agnes’s theft?
  • Mary Spurren’s lot was common for a poor city girl living in Agnes’s era— far more common than Agnes’s own. How did your understanding of Mary change throughout the novel?
  • One could easily imagine Agnes’s story being set in the present-day and Agnes being just another teenage runaway/mother. Do you think circumstances have improved much for girls impregnated with an unwanted child?

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The Book of Fires 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
The Book of Fires is the story of Agnes Trussel, 17 and pregnant, in 1752. She flees her home in the countryside ,fearing the wrath of her father, and ends up in London, desperately hoping to find a way to survive. By chance she is taken in by Mr. Blacklock, a fireworks maker, and she proves adept at learning the art. She hides her pregnancy, but must figure out a better solution as she obviously can't hide it forever. I really enjoyed this book! The details of making fireworks, the history of life in London in 1752, and the depth of Agnes as a character all made for a unique and entertaining read. The writing is very descriptive so that you can taste, smell, and feel what Agnes' life was like and are instantly transported into the time period. The plot was a little unrealistic at times, Agnes proves to be luckier than the average person. However, I enjoy a good, surprise ending so it was worth stretching credibility a little for me. I will certainly look forward to Jane Borodale's next novel.
JanetRuth More than 1 year ago
This was a totally different kind of book for me to read, but I was pleasantly surprised. Agnes is the main character in the book, and she is the ultimate example of a survivor. Her father struggled to keep food on the table for his large family, and Agnes and her mother did their very best to keep the family fed. Agnes discovers she is pregnant, and she flees from the family home in the middle of the night. She did not want to further burden her family with another mouth to feed, and she did not want to bring shame to the family. She journeys to London and fate delivers her to the doorstep of Mr. Blacklock. She tries desperately to hide her pregnancy from everyone, and comes up with a somewhat devious plan for her future. But once again, her plans did not materialize. One devastating turn of events after another show how resilient Agnes is, and the surprise ending still has me shaking my head. What an intriguing story! This book was a refreshing change from the normal type of novel. I would give this book a rating of 5 out of 5, and highly recommend it to everyone.
RobbieGreg More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a young, naive country girl who, given the worst of circumstances, sets out to make the best of her life anyway. Her innocence is touching, making her very likable from the start. The eighteenth century isn't such a good time to be unwed and pregnant. In England, it is a hang-able offense, and poor Agnes is left to her own devises, each day drawing nearer the time she would be found out. It's in desperation that she leaves her home and finds herself in London. Borodale is an excellent storyteller, and the characters that Agnes meets along the way are colorful; I could "hear" all their voices as I read, and could practically feel Agnes' anxiousness that they may find her out. All the while, she is working as assistant to a brooding fireworks maker, whom I have decided should definitely be played by Alan Rickman in the movie, should there be one. It is with him, in his workshop, that Agnes learns that she has a talent, I think; potential that makes her realize that she matters and is truly worth saving, despite what the world is telling her. This is a story about making one's way; finding not only survival, but also purpose, friendship, and a place to belong. The last chapters, instead of winding down the story, as many books do, is filled with twists and surprises that make you want it to go on and on. It gave me the impression that Borodale didn't want it to end as she was writing. It was absolutely wonderful clear up to the last page, and not once did I find myself saying, "but what about...?". I was able to put this down, finished, with satisfaction, and I can't wait to read something else from this writer, when it becomes available (this is a debut novel). 368 pages Release date: January 21, 2010
frisbeesage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Book of Fires is the story of Agnes Trussel, 17 and pregnant, in 1752. She flees her home in the countryside ,fearing the wrath of her father, and ends up in London, desperately hoping to find a way to survive. By chance she is taken in by Mr. Blacklock, a fireworks maker, and she proves adept at learning the art. She hides her pregnancy, but must figure out a better solution as she obviously can't hide it forever.I really enjoyed this book! The details of making fireworks, the history of life in London in 1752, and the depth of Agnes as a character all made for a unique and entertaining read. The writing is very descriptive so that you can taste, smell, and feel what Agnes' life was like and are instantly transported into the time period. The plot was a little unrealistic at times, Agnes proves to be luckier than the average person. However, I enjoy a good, surprise ending so it was worth stretching credibility a little for me. I will certainly look forward to Jane Borodale's next novel.
HiTechCharities on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very nice book about the trials & tribulations of a young woman who goes beyond her station in learning how to make fireworks. I enjoyed the ending, where the surprising kindness of another helps her to keep her newly elevated station in life.
jjameli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm on the fence with this book. The details, and description were great in detailing life in the 17th century, but the story was slightly too slow for me. I really enjoy plot driven books, and for me this was too much sides, and not enough meat. I have to give kudos to author Jane Borodale for creating a great protagonist. Agnes is a wonderful character.
moonight on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is amazing read. It starts out slow in the beginning but it captures my heart as I read more in the book. Agnes Trussel is a young 17years old girl grow up in the country side. She escaped the future to be marry with the man who raped her to move to London. I could feel how lost and desperate Agnes is when she is pregnant with an unwanted child. But she fights all the difficulties she face. The book also discusses morality and whether crime with reasons should be forgiven. There are moments in the book that stir tears in my eyes, and there are moments that just form butterflies in my stomach. The description and details is amazing as well. The story is like fireworks, starts out slow but bang the ending burst into new insight. I was applaud when i found out what Blacklock was trying to do in the end. There is angst and slight romance. Many surprising plot twists, and amazing characters. I fall in love with Blacklock and his mysterious character. A very good read, you need to read it to not spoil the ending. Really recommend this.
lizzybeans11 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm in the mood for period fiction and this seemed to fit the bill. Borodale does a nice job of describing 18th century London through the eyes of her young protagonist. Agnes is a fairly strong character, though possibly a little dark for some people's taste.The story was a little slow, but is easy to follow if you pick it up on and off.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Book of Fires is the story of Agnes Trussel, a teenage girl from the country who becomes pregnant and, stealing coins from her dead neighbor, runs away to London, where she obtains a job as assistant to a fireworks maker, John Blacklock. The novel covers the course of Agnes's pregnancy, from late 1752 to early 1753.I both like and dislike this novel, which I know is a contradiction¿much like the character of Agnes Trussell. I think my biggest problem with this novel is that I didn¿t totally believe her as a narrator¿she¿s an uneducated teenager from the country, yet she speaks in this upper class voice. On one hand, she¿s intelligent, but on the other, she¿s so incredibly stupid about human nature. Did she really think that nobody in John Blacklock¿s house would notice that she was pregnant? Did she really think that her plan regarding Cornelius Soul would work out? How could she not figure out from the get-go what Lettice Talbot¿s profession is? Is she really that ignorant of The Facts of Life? Agnes is unfortunately not the most compelling of narrators (like Bessy from The Observations, for example), and I think the book would have been better served if the narrator had been omniscient. In fact, some of the other characters in the book, specifically Blacklock, turned out to be far more interesting to me.On the other hand, I really enjoyed the plot of this novel. It¿s unique and interesting, and it held my interest right from the first sentence to the last. The twist at the end is quite good, too. Jane Borodale is clearly a good writer, and she certainly has a poetic way with words. If she¿d worked a little more on her narrator, this book would be excellent.
pru-lennon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
agnes trussel is a countrygirl from sussex who ends up taken advantage of by a young drunk, john glincy. as she finds she's pregnant, she sadly decides the only thing she can do is leave her family. she soon finds herself in london in the employ of john blacklock, fireworkmaker. agnes must try to hide her pregnancy, get used to her new city life, contend with unfriendly people and those who want to take furthur advantage of her and learn a trade. her life with john blacklock is a wonderous one, not only for the knowledge he imparts to her and her natural skill for it, but for a silent love shared by them. as the book continues and so does agnes' pregnancy, you find yourself just as concerned about what will become of her with the birth of her child. finish the book, though, and you will find a book that ends neatly but not too neatly. the close of the book feels natural and bittersweet.
woolenough on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This historical novel, set in 1750's London, has two stories. One traces the efforts of young Agnes Trussel to conceal her unwanted pregnancy while struggling with feelings of guilt over her theft of gold coins from a dead neighbor's house. A naïve country girl, Agnes uses the money to fund her escape to London, so that she will not bring shame upon her family. Of far more interest is the story of Robert Blacklock, the maker of fireworks whom Agnes encounters in London and who hires her as an apprentice and general household help. We see him through Agnes's eyes and experience her increasing fascination with the fireworks she is learning to create. The relationship between these two is built on obsession, not romance. I found the story interesting and the characters convincing. All the details of daily life in that time are so carefully outlined that the period just comes to life and drags you in. The book is not without flaws, but they are all classic first-novel issues. A little too much description occasionally slows the story; the heroine sometimes thinks at a level of prose that is clearly the author, and not the character, speaking; and there a few subplot threads that wander off and are never resolved. For a reader there is nothing quite like the excitement of finding a good first novel by a new author. "The Book of Fires" was a terrific start for this author, and I look forward to reading more of her work.
pholewa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hard to put down, this enjoyable, face-paced book took no time to read. Jane Borodale did a great job of capturing realistically the grimy, dirty, and precariousness of life in both rural and urban England during the 18th Century. The story is full of colorful and realistic characters from all walks of life. Borodale also includes fascinating details about the science of pyrotechnics. A wonderful story with unexpected twists and turns. I look forward to reading more novels by Ms. Borodale.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
With her debut novel, The Book of Fires, Jane Borodale has written a meticulous period drama with a memorable heroine. In the fall of 1752, seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel finds herself in the family way. Nearly paralyzed with fear and shame, when opportunity presents itself Agnes abandons her family home in the country and makes her way alone to London. Almost miraculously, she finds shelter and a job assisting widower John Blacklock, an artisan manufacturer of fireworks. Somewhat uncomfortably, Agnes becomes a member of the small household. And by Blacklock's side she learns the tools of his trade. I know as much about fireworks as the average person, but Borodale's novel deeply explores the intersection of art and science involved in the endeavor, and it's a fascinating background for Agnes's story. All the while, day by day, Agnes's secret is growing, threatening her position and her very future in this restrictive and unforgiving society. Agnes is definitely a reflection of her times. The novel's opening is a bit slow as she ponders her guilt and shame over and over. However, once the bulk of the story got going, I found myself entranced with the tale being told. The end of the novel was, perhaps, excessively well-telegraphed, but was no less satisfying for being predictable.
jdquinlan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From the Inside Flap:It is 1752. Winter is approaching, and two secrets - an unwanted pregnancy and a theft - drive seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel to run away from her home in rural Sussex. Lost and frightened as night descends on the menacing streets of London, she is drawn to a curious sign depicting a man holding a star. It is the home of Mr. J. Blackclock, a brooding fireworks maker who is grieving for his recently deceased wife. He hires Agnes as his apprentice, and as she learns to make rockets, portfires and fiery rain, she slowly gains the laconic Blacklock's trust. He initiates her into his peculiar art and sparks in her a shared obsession for creating the most spectacular fireworks the world has ever seen.But her condition is becoming harder to conceal, and through it all, the clock is ticking - for Agnes's secret will not stay hidden forever. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and she conceives of a plan that could save her. But why does Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr. Soul? And what is Blacklock hiding from her? Could he be on the brink of a discovery that will change pyrotechny forever? A summer storm is brewing - but Agnes has no idea that her mysterious mentor has been watching her, and hatching plans of his own.The Book of Fires vividly evokes a dark bygone world and offers a masterful portrayal of a relationship as mysterious and tempestuous as any the Brontes imagined. Jane Borodale's portrait of 1750s London is unforgettable, from the grimy streets to the inner workings of a household where little is as it seems. Beautifully written, complex and layered, The Book of Fires is a captivating debut of fireworks, redemption, and the strange alchemy that will forever change the fortunes of a young woman once bound for ruin.My Review:Sounds like a great tale of misfortune, mysterious secrets and love, doesn't it? Well, it's really not. That's an excellent synopsis; who wouldn't buy the book based on that description? Unfortunately, the inside flap is much more exciting than the book itself, and rather misleading, though I won't give away the plot by elaborating on the details.I wanted to read this book the first time I saw it featured on another blog and was so excited when I won a copy, but overall I was disappointed with it. It's a very well written book; I loved the descriptiveness of it and learning how fireworks were made in 18th century London was great. Agnes is also a very likeable heroine and it's easy to get swept into her life, but the story didn't have enough "meat" for me, and that problem was compounded by an unexpected twist that made the ending not at all what I was expecting or hoping for, and I felt it wrapped things up just a little too conveniently. However, I think this author has potential and I would read more from her if forthcoming novels have more engaging plots.
kanadani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale is a historical novel set in London in the mid eighteenth century . It was the story of pregnant teenage girl, Agnes Trussel, from the country who runs away and finds herself in London as an assistant to a morose fireworks maker, John Blacklock. She learns the art of fireworks and while trying to keep her pregnancy a secret. In general I had mixed feelings about this historical novel. The plot was entertaining and the obvious amount of research in setting the stage was apparent. However, it was the mysterious character of John Blacklock and the details given on the process of making fireworks that kept me reading. While I did not take issue with the character of Agnes Trussel, having her act as the narrator was difficult to follow. In general, the usage of the first-person present did not give it the feeling of immersion as I am sure was intended. Due to some consistency issues, in the beginning of the book it tended to lend itself to sounding more like a grocery list of tasks rather than an immersive narration. Towards the end, though, the pace was better and the story flowed in a more enjoyable fashion. This was a decent book to read, but I would advise anyone to just slog through the beginning to get to the heart of the story. I almost put the book down before I got there, and now I'm glad I was able to push through and get to the end as it was worth it.
robbieg_422 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a young, naïve country girl who, given the worst of circumstances, sets out to make the best of her life anyway. Her innocence is touching, making her very likeable from the start. The eighteenth century isn¿t such a good time to be unwed and pregnant. In England, it is a hangable offense, and poor Agnes is left to her own devises, each day drawing nearer the time she would be found out. It¿s in desperation that she leaves her home and finds herself in London. Borodale is an excellent storyteller, and the characters that Agnes meets along the way are colorful; I could ¿hear¿ all their voices as I read, and could practically feel Agnes¿ anxiousness that they may find her out. All the while, she is working as assistant to a brooding fireworks maker, whom I have decided should definitely be played by Alan Rickman in the movie, should there be one. It is with him, in his workshop, that Agnes learns that she has a talent, I think; potential that makes her realize that she matters and is truly worth saving, despite what the world is telling her. This is a story about making one¿s way; finding not only survival, but also purpose, friendship, and a place to belong. The last chapters, instead of winding down the story, as many books do, is filled with twists and surprises that make you want it to go on and on. It gave me the impression that Borodale didn¿t want it to end as she was writing. It was absolutely wonderful clear up to the last page, and not once did I find myself saying, ¿but what about¿..?¿. I was able to put this down, finished, with satisfaction, and I can¿t wait to read something else from this writer, when it becomes available (this is a debut novel). 368 pagesRelease date: January 21, 2010
luna68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This debut novel was a joy to read. The plot is simple enough: A young woman in Victorian England living in the country with her family ends up pregnant and decides to run away to London to avoid shaming her family. She ends up working as an apprentice to a fireworks maker, trying to hide her state from her new boss to avoid being fired. She is not only a quick study in the art of pyrotechny, but quickly develops a passion for it. This is the basic plot, but lying underneath it all is a love story. Not a typical love story, but a sweet, naive and innocent one. The writing is outstanding, quickly drawing you in so that you feel like you are a part of this old-fashioned world. "Atmospheric" is a great word to describe this narrative. You will enjoy this book from start to finish. You will also gain a whole new appreciation for fireworks.
itbgc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There was a lot to enjoy with this historical novel: the colorful characters, interesting plot, somewhat-gothic mood, 18th Century English countryside and London, and the making of fireworks. I would definitely recommend this book to others. I read an uncorrected proof, and I assume some of the rough edges will be corrected. There was some awkwardness at times in the writing, and it continually bothered me that a young woman who is late in her pregnancy would actually think that people were not noticing that she was pregnant because she was hiding herself with a shawl. The ending of the book was a little weak because the author seemed to resolve a lot of loose ends in just a few pages. However, overall, I think it was a very good book, and I hope to read more by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marvelous read
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EffieTX More than 1 year ago
No ebook is worth $19.....