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The Book of Fires Paperback – 29 Apr 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins (29 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007305737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007305735
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 75,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Borodale gained her MA from Wimbledon School of Art. She has written and exhibited work for a variety of sites, including the Wordsworth Trust, Cumbria, the Foundling Museum, London, and the Dartington Hall Trust in Devon, where she was writer-in-residence. 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.

Product Description


'Jane Borodale displays a deft touch in this very pleasing story' MAUREEN WALLER, Daily Telegraph

‘Borodale's refreshingly original approach and engaging style makes 'The Book of Fires’ a welcome addition to the historical fiction genre' Yorkshire Evening Post

'A dark atmospheric novel from a fantastic new voice in fiction' Bury Free Press, Book of the Week

'This author's debut excels in it's portrayal of the lot of the 18th-century underclass, of the development of the dark art of pyrotechny and of the swift and usually harsh treatment of those whose sole crime was that of poverty… this 'Book of Fireworks' really works and it sparkles along at a fizzingly glorious pace. Literary pyrotechnics on a grand scale' Lady

From the Author

Agnes Trussel’s story came to me in a flash, one cold night at a bonfire on Dartmoor, and grew from there, slowly, over four years. I began to write and found there were different layers to the shape I was attempting: there were the ideas I wanted to explore, and the more concrete occurrences I needed to show for the story to progress. There were the atmospheres and textures I wanted the story to steep in, and there was the path through the information I’d gathered whilst researching eighteenth-century life and the history of pyrotechny. I also found that a novel has its own microclimate, and often things seem to just happen inside it, of their own accord.

I had a childhood passion for fireworks; the fifth of November was quite significant where I grew up in Sussex, and the man who ran the local shop made his own fireworks – very loud, plain and erratic, which he would set off later in the evening when the display was over and the bonfire had died down. It struck me even as a child as a vigorous kind of subversive activity.

I loved the idea of fire being the catalyst for change, for luck, for strength, for magic, and for danger. It is rich in symbolism, and I wanted my firework maker John Blacklock to be enigmatic, dark, with something of the Promethean myth about him. I was fascinated by the discovery of coloured fireworks – which finally happened towards the end of the century – but even more intrigued by the thought of the time before the discovery itself; the period of searching and experimentation, hope and disappointment, that led to the crucial moment when the gap in knowledge was filled.

Whilst writing I also became increasingly interested in the lot of the rural and urban underclass as enclosure and industrialisation rapidly altered the countryside and town. The Old Bailey accounts of those hanged in the name of the law, for often the smallest of crimes in the face of abject poverty, became part of the story as parallels and quickeners to Agnes’s plight. I felt that her character grew directly out of the landscape she had left behind – and I was interested in exposing her to the city as a place of ideas, of change. I also wanted to explore the tug of home in dream and memory during a life lived elsewhere. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Snitzy-bitz on 10 May 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Although for some unknown reason I don't normally like books written in the present tense, I enjoyed this one. It is about a young girl living with her struggling family on a farm in Sussex, who finds herself pregnant. She is worrying what she will do about it but then fate seems to present her with an opportunity when she finds and takes some coins from a neighbour who she discovers dead, and runs away to London.

On arrival in London she finds work with a firework-maker, but knows it will not be long before the secret of her pregnancy begins to show itself. She dreads the day when her pregnancy is discovered and she will be thrown out onto the street, and worries that her theft of the coins will catch up with her and she will be hung at Tyburn.

The story got to the point and moved along at a steady pace. I was absorbed by the book and found myself thinking of it sometimes when I wasn't reading it. The descriptions of life in the 18th Century seem quite realistic and were told in a matter of fact way. Some of the explanations of the making of fireworks were beyond me, but this didn't go on for so long that it became boring.

I won't spoil the plot for you, but the story has an unexpected twist at the end, and a bitter-sweet but not a sad ending for the main character. It's one of those books that you can't help thinking would make a good film.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Hel S on 4 Aug 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book could have been terrible - young girl finds herself pregnant, she comes from a poor family with many mouths to feed already, she leaves home alone to go to the big many cliches are there waiting to drag the book down. But what a pleasant surprise - the author writes a wonderfully engaging story which utilises the obvious but which takes the reader on an intriguing and spellbinding journey. It's not only the fireworks which create freshness and interest, but the way in which the obvious is eluded and the twists and turns the book takes feel fresh and new, as if the author is the only person to have thought of them.

I've read so many historical novels recently which have had a combination of poor writing, overused cliches, lack of research and dreadful attempts at contemporary dialogue that I tend to approach most books with some trepidation. 'The Book of Fires' was a wonderful surprise. The twists and turns were well done and unexpected, and the ending provided a realistic, and yet surprising, resolution to the main protagonist's journey that was thoroughly satisfying.

The author includes a lot of historical detail which could have been clunky and intrusive, but which flowed seamlessly through the narrative, and gave it real depth.

My only disappointment is that this is the author's first book and was published only a couple of months ago. I'm eagerly awaiting her next novel, and hope it's as good as this.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pyewacket TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 Jun 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Agnes Trussel, impoverished and pregnant one day sees her chance to run away to London to stop her family having to bear the shame and extra cost of yet another child.

With her two secrets, she manages to gain employment as an assistant firework maker to the rather dark and sanguine John Blacklock. Surprisingly to both parties, she turns out to have a natural aptitude for this kind of thing and Blacklock keeps her on and starts to teach her all manner of things about 'fire'. However, all is not well in the household courtesy of the obnoxious Mrs. Blight the Housekeeper who has a thirst for hangings and gossip.

As poor Agnes becomes bigger and bigger with child she becomes more and more desperate to find a solution to her problem and sets upon a plan to ensnare one of Blacklocks suppliers, one Cornelius Soul. Things do not go to plan however and she finds herself then thinking of even more drastic measures.

This is a really well written book with vivid descriptions of rural and urban life in those times. Nothing it would appear changes, the poor are still poor and the rich are still rich and there is nothing much in between except the gallows, debtors prison or prostitution left for the truly down and out.

The ending is truly a surprise and one I would never have envisaged.........there is also another nice little twist in the plot which then gives Agnes the redemption she so badly needs.

The descriptions given in the book about the art of Pyrotechny I also found absorbing and of genuine interest.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Cook on 9 Feb 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book has received very mixed reviews, which surprises me as I thought it was well written, original and totally wonderful. It is an unusual story in that, although it starts with a very cliched situation (pregnant girl runs away to London) it develops into something so much more. All the characters are beautifully drawn, from Agnes Trussel herself, to the frightful, but aptly named Mrs Blight and the enigmatic Mr Blacklock. I'm not interested in fireworks, infact I don't like them, but as a backdrop to this novel I found it both innovative and hugely rewarding to learn something of their beginning. I don't keep all the books I read, but this one is definitely staying on my shelf to to be savoured and enjoyed again.
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