The Book of Fires
Pamela Dorman Books, 2010. $27. 368 pages.
I finished this book over the summer while taking a break from my comps list. The blurb sounded interesting: in the eighteenth century, a pregnant woman goes to London to escape her family and becomes an apprentice to a fireworks maker.
The first section of the novel is tightly written. Agnes is with her family, roasting a pig that will be their food in the coming winter. Fireworks imagery is woven throughout providing a little bit of mood setting and foreshadowing without being heavy-handed. Once Agnes got to London, however, things started to get a bit shaky. I didn’t get a full grasp of Mr. Blacklock’s character. The dialogue was muddled and confusing. In the end, the resolution was touching but ultimately fell flat.
Writing historical voice is admittedly tricky and I’m currently having the same difficulty with my own book. It’s a delicate balance between extensive research on the part of the writer and conveying that through setting and dialogue. The conversations between Agnes and Mr. Blacklock did not make sense. It was a bit like the dialogue in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette – you just want the characters to shut up so you can enjoy the pretty movie. Stitled and halting.
To me, the book read a bit like David Liss’s A Conspiracy of Paper, another eighteenth century historical novel I didn’t get. When writers get bogged down in historical details, it affects the style, and not in a good way.