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The Invention of Fire


The Invention of Fire

THE INVENTION OF FIRE is Bruce Holsinger’s sequel to A BURNABLE BOOK, featuring medieval poet John Gower and a host of very interesting London characters mixed up with a bit of mystery.

Gower may be a middling poet, but he does have the touch when it comes to finding out the most intriguing bits of devious, and sometimes dangerous, information. So when 16 corpses show up in the local public privy, Gower hears about it and is summoned to investigate the murders. He might be an expert when it comes to secrets, especially those of the local gentry, but it seems that anything new he finds out about the slayings only adds more confusion to an already bizarre situation. One of the oddest things about the massacre (and there are many odd things) is that Gower can’t put his hands on the murder weapon. The 16 men were killed with a weapon few have ever heard of and even fewer have ever seen --- a handgonne.

"[T]his book has big appeal, whether or not you are a fan of the genre. It’s the combination of setting, characters, historical detail and the writing that makes it work."

Adding anxiety to an already tense investigation, Gower is starting to feel his age. Worries about his failing eyesight are increasing and more than concerning. He knows he needs to keep this his secret, otherwise his little trade may no longer be quite so fruitful. Keeping it hidden is a tremendous burden and not as easy as he thought. His friend, Geoffrey Chaucer, is one of the few he can trust, but even Chaucer, now serving as a local justice of the peace, has his hands full investigating and bringing to justice a few outlaws in the forests of Kent. Gower follows his leads to Calais and finds himself in even more danger and unwilling (and possibly unable) to see the truth on several fronts. When Gower finally begins to see the ties, he realizes just how difficult it will be to pull the strings this time around. He needs just a bit more information to make it all work.

In the 1380s, the gun was a new invention but one not certainly understood or widely known. In fact, at the time, it was a contraption more likely to take off a hand before firing straight at a target, but it’s quietly being perfected in Gower’s London. He is both fascinated and terrified by these new weapons. He may be hunting for a killer, but he’s also trying to figure out where the weapons are coming from.

Holsinger’s medieval mystery is fascinating, and not just for the characters (a few favorites from the first installment returns, which is a treat) --- the world he brings together is brilliant. In my review of A BURNABLE BOOK, I said that one of the best parts of the book was how the author brought to life medieval London. I stand by that and wholeheartedly second it for this follow-up.  

I’m a historical fiction reader with a soft spot for stories set in England and France, so THE INVENTION OF FIRE is in my sweet spot. Honestly, though, this book has big appeal, whether or not you are a fan of the genre. It’s the combination of setting, characters, historical detail and the writing that makes it work. Every second spent in John Gower’s world is time well spent.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on May 1, 2015

The Invention of Fire
by Bruce Holsinger