The Book Of Fires – Jane Borodale

1752 on a small countryside road in England, winter is encroaching a poor family, where there may not be enough food for everyone.  The last pig has been slaughtered and is being cut and cured to hopefully last them the cold, bitter winter.

Agnes Trussel has a deeply guarded secret that she cannot tell anyone, well make that 2.  One day while laying in the fields and enjoying the outdoors on a warm, sunny day, a boy near her age may have raped her – she isn’t sure if it was rape or she just let him do it.  On that day, she became pregnant.  The other secret is one that she feels that she would be ostracized not only from her family, but the small town she lives near.

Her mother who is on the oldish side is also pregnant.  At her age, it is showing more and more that she is over tired with all of the other young children she has running under foot.  Agnes does her best to help out, along with her aunt and other family members.  It still isn’t enough.  If her mother found out that she is pregnant, it would strain the family to the brink.  She would also be forced in a way to marry the boy, which she doesn’t want to do.  She cannot let this happen in any circumstance.

Back to secret 2, she does something drastic to be able to sneak away into the night away from home to another place to sort out her life.  She goes south to begin a new life, in London.

When she steals away into the night / pre-dawn hours, on the back of a carriage that transports passengers she meets a fascinating woman who has offered her a job if she cannot find one when she arrives as a maid.  it would pay better than any other job that she would be able to find, which is making her cautious.  She gets the address as they arrive in London.

As she is looking around for the address, she becomes lost.  Not knowing or understanding her way, she arrives at what she thinks is the address to find a man at the door who lets her in.

This is where her life is about to change for the better.  Unbeknownst to her, the gentleman is Mr. Blackcock, an infamous fireworks maker and designer.  He takes her under his wing and literally teaches her everything he knows and new things about everything about fireworks and then some.

As Agnes learns, the other working women of the house are quizzical of her and as her pregnancy is becoming more pronounced, she is afraid that she will be found out and thrown from the house for the secrets she is hiding.

Will she be able to explain everything, while still being able to learn with the fireworks maker?  Be allowed to continue to learn the craft and still be able to care for her child?

I really enjoyed this book.  Between the then secretive craft of fireworks making, Agnes’ story along with the rest of the story has me glued to the pages reading them at a feverish pace wondering what was going to happen next as I read into the early hours of the morning.  The evocative images of Agnes alongside her mentor making these fabulous fireworks which were in that time still in their infancy unlike they are today, witnessing her first ever fireworks show being done with the fireworks that she herself made and never witnessed before in her life must have been transformative as well as exciting – wondering what was going to happen like a child watching them for the first time with awe.  To the agonizing truth she may have to face if any of her secrets are found out, having to bear not only the pregnancy, possibly condemned, gave her quest one of urgency as well as safety.

The truth of the unknown that lay ahead for her was agonizing for me, which turned it into an amazing story about the strength that she has and what she was able to accomplish.

Penguin / Viking

Jane’s Website

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