Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

In The Book of Fires, young Agnes learns that she is pregnant and runs off to London leaving her life and struggling family behind. Alone and scared, she ends up on the doorstep of Mr. Blacklock, a pyrotechnist, a fireworks maker. Soon she is working as his assistant, but continues to hide her condition. When a young man delivers some supplies to the workshop, Agnes sees a way to get out of her predicament and hatches a plan. Little does she know the Blacklock has been busy making his own plans.

This debut book by Jane Borodale was great. While the beginning of the story was not uncommon, the stuff that followed as well as the ending were extraordinary. The writing was lovely and fit well with the time period (1750s). I know it took me a little longer to get to this one, but I had a number of books set in England/UK and I tried to spread them out a little. I'm so glad I finally got to this one. I loved it.

It was a little odd that Agnes ended up as Blacklock's assistant so quickly. Perhaps her saw that she was desperate or he saw something else and didn't want to send her away. Whatever the reason it probably saved Agnes's life.

I adored Agnes. I didn't always agree with her decisions, but she stole my heart right from the beginning. I kept hoping that she was going to find someone she could confide in. The others in Blacklock's employ were a eccentric bunch. With all of their bickering and mistrust, it was hard to tell what really was going on there. I found it hard to like Blacklock. He kept disappearing and working in secret. I was hoping that he too would find a confidante.

I loved all of the information about fireworks. Some of the chemistry and preparations were over my head, but it was still really interesting stuff. We almost take fireworks for granted now. It was great to read about the art as it was hundreds of years ago.

The ending was really good and a huge surprise. I wasn't expecting that at all. I read part of it twice because it confused me and I was unsure if I read it correctly. I should probably leave it there before I reveal something I shouldn't.

Favourite quotes:
The listening ear should always be left ajar to possibility.

New words:
ague (page 6) - fever
coppice (page 19) - wood
gibbet (page 39) - gallows
malapert (page 105) - bold in speech or behaviour
jerkin (page 133) - sleeveless coat or tunic
victuals (page 147) - provisions
orpiment (page 183) - yellow mineral
assizes (page 192) - inquest
periwig (page 193) - hairpiece
fustian (page 206) - cotton-linen cloth (in this case)
burette (page 278) - tube for measuring liquid

I'd definitely recommend this book.

Want to read another review? Here's one from Meaghan at A Cineaste's Bookshelf and another from Heather at Books and Quilts.

For more information about this book or to have a peek inside, please visit Penguin'swebsite.

For more information about the author and other cool stuff, please visit Jane Borodale's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

The Book of Fires: A Novel by Jan Borodale, Viking (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9780670021062(Hardcover), 356p.


  1. I love that quote! Brillliant. This looks like a very interesting book. I need a review copy!!! :-)

  2. I've really been looking forward to reading this one since it was nominated for the Orange Prize for New Writers this year. I'm glad to know you loved it!

  3. Leeswammes, If you do get a copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    nomadreader, Thanks I didn't know it was nominated. That's very cool.

    Thanks to both of you for stopping by.

  4. I really enjoyed this book as well. I checked with hubby while reading, he's a fireworks guy, and he said the fireworks information was accurate and that some of the same types of fireworks are still in use today.

  5. Great review. Sounds like something I might like. I'll be scoping it out for the library where I work.

    You have a lovely blog. Thank you for commenting on our blog and we'll definitely be back to yours.

  6. Now this sounds like my kind of historical novel! Glad to hear how much you liked it. :)

  7. I have thought about getting this book more than once but wasn't sure. After your review, I think I may give it a go. Thanks!


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