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The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale, is a riveting novel set in England, 1752.
Seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel and her siblings are used to long days of farm work. Their father is a tenant farmer but his acreage slips every year and their worn-out mother is pregnant again.
Agnes, too, is pregnant, but she has told no one, most especially not the father of the baby. She will not marry him. And when her parents find out she will bring disgrace upon the whole family.
Instead, she runs away to London to start a new life.
However, this is Dickens’ London, rampant with poverty, where beggars and prostitutes abound, Agnes is fortunate to find employment in the home of a pyrotechnic maker. Mr. Blacklock has scars, burns and one of his thumbs is but a stub, but he assures Agnes his workplace is safe if she listens and takes precautions.He needs an assistant, and although Agnes is a girl, he likes her quiet manner. She is nimble with her fingers and can easily pack the gunpowder and other metal into the rockets. His is a profitable business; the displays that employ his fireworks are in demand by all.
It was the notice for a housekeeper that brought Agnes to the house, but a Mrs. Blight was hired as the housekeeper the day before Agnes arrived. They, with a third woman, Mary Spurren, make up the household, as Mr. Blacklock’s wife died some years before. Agnes is not quite sure why Mr. Blacklock decided he needed her as an apprentice, when he clearly had not been looking for one.
Agnes cannot hide her condition for much longer. She has no one to turn to: Mrs. Blight dislikes her, and Mr. Blacklock is strange – coming and going without notice. Her only chance is to find someone to marry her quickly.
The clock is ticking. Every reader will feel the urgency and suspense of this fascinating novel.