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The Book of Fires

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By Jane Borodale


Agnes Trussel, 17 and pregnant, leaves her home in the English countryside to try her fortunes in 1752 London, where she becomes apprenticed to a fireworks maker, Mr. Blacklock. What she does not realize is, just as she is racing against time to find a solution to her dilemma, so, too, is Mr. Blacklock for his own reasons. Dense and deeply atmospheric, this debut novel paints a vivid picture of 18th-century life, carefully detailing the smells, the grime, and the nuances of everyday interactions. Borodale's resolution to Agnes's problem is surprising but entirely possible. Verdict Evoking the feel of novels like Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, this work will captivate historical fiction fans who relish the fine details of quotidian life, but they might find it difficult to form an attachment to Agnes, who never quite lifts off the page.-Pamela P. O'Sullivan, SUNY at Brockport Lib. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Borodale's enjoyable debut is the story of Agnes Trussel, who, in 1752, leaves the poverty-stricken countryside for London, intent on hiding her unwanted pregnancy and making a better life. On her journey, she meets Lettice Talbot, a beautiful young woman who promises to help her, but when Agnes loses track of her benefactress, she ends up as the apprentice to Mr. Blacklock, a moody pyrotechnist who is mourning his dead wife as he attempts to bring color to fireworks. Despite her difficulties with Blacklock's other domestic staff, Agnes grows to feel at home in London and enjoys her work, but she is constantly threatened by the imminent exposure of her pregnancy and haunted by the guilt of her theft of the stash of coins that funded her trip. This menacing mood is Borodale's greatest achievement: from the omnipresent hangings to the economic knife-edge upon which the working class lives, she builds a dark but human world that makes Agnes's plight deeply sympathetic. When the story is neatly tied up with an unexpected resolution to Agnes's problems, it's surprising but not unbelievable, capping off a delightfully diverting book. (Jan.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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