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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

Agnes Trussel has a secret, she is pregnant and on the run. Fortunately for her she loses her way and never gets to stay with the enigmatic beauty she meets on the coach to London. Just as well, for Lettice Talbot is a courtesan and comes to a bad end. Instead Agnes finds herself inadvertently apprenticed to a firework maker, which takes her on a parallel but very different path.

The plot is not a fast paced one, but this does not matter because the 18th century is beautifully evoked - from the Trussel's rural farm where they eke out an existence, to the descriptions of the intricacies of pyrotechny. The novel seems to have been painstakingly researched, and the research is a big part of the book. The set pieces of slaughtering and curing a pig, and of creating fireworks, though long, are fascinating to read.

The relationships are finely drawn, particularly that of Blacklock the firework maker and Agnes, whose shyness and misunderstanding of each other ring painfully true. None of the characters are obviously likeable, but that makes them all the more human and interesting.

The novel takes place over the nine months that it takes Agnes to deliver her child, and the passage of time is so skilfully done it feels real. I borrowed this book from the library, but I shall be buying Jane Borodale's next because the quality of the writing in this novel is outstanding.

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