The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

The clock is ticking for 17-year-old Agnes Trussel. It is 1752, she is pregnant, unmarried and after stealing coins from an elderly neighbour has run away from her family in Sussex to the city of London. Her desperate search for work leads her to the home and workshop of one Mr. Blacklock, fireworks maker, where she asks for housekeeping work, and ends up as his apprentice.

Here she slowly gains the trust of the broody, heartbroken man as she assists him in his self-consuming quest to make the best fireworks London has ever seen. All the while, she is desperately scheming to either find a husband – fast – to end her pregnancy or to somehow give up her child without being discovered. Her days are numbered – a pregnancy can only be hidden for so long.

I had a hard time with this novel, as I am not a fan of many books with first person, present tense narrative (I am measuring the ingredients as we are discussing the chemistry *not an actual quote). Yet I was fascinated by the story – I love anything set in this time period, and it is so rare to have a novel set in the 18th century focusing on the darker side of human relations and social expectations. Borodale paints a wonderfully horrific picture of London in the 1750s with all its dirt, crime, poverty and disease.

The relationship between Anges and Mr. Blacklock had some very Jane Eyre/Mr. Rochester overtones. He is clearly enraptured – yet still longs for his dead wife. She has no idea that a man of his status, and so many years her senior could ever have feelings for her, and so sets her sights elsewhere. Their ending is perhaps more similar to another Bronte novel, if not in detail, certainly in its darkness.

Great story and touching romance. Very impressive first novel. I would like to read more from Jane Borodale.

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (December 28, 2010)
ISBN-10: 014311848X
ASIN: B005B1IANM

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