Monday, 25 January 2016

Review: Into the Fire by Manda Scott


As I mentioned in my review of 2015, reading-wise, I did finally manage to find a five-star book!

The book was ”Into the Fire” by Manda Scott. I’ll admit right away (actually, I’ve mentioned it before) that I’m a huge fan of Scott’s Boudica series and have immensely enjoyed her Rome series as well. ”Into the Fire” came out earlier last year, but although I bought it soon after the release date, I saved it, hoping it would prove to be a good holiday read. It definitely did.

The novel is a dual timeline novel, with one part taking place in the modern day Orléans and the other in the 15th century France. I was a little worried about this at first; while one part is historical fiction – my favourite genre – the other seemed more like a thriller/crime sort of thing, which doesn’t usually interest me. However, reading is one area of life where I’m actually eager to venture outside my comfort zone, and the one thriller I have read from Scott was very good indeed (note to self: must read the other ones as well).

I’ll also admit that I've been a little disappointed with some dual timeline novels, but I needn’t have worried. Scott handles the two timelines admirably: just when things get edge-of-your-set-biting-your-nails exciting in one, she switches to the other! Of course, as a reader, you want to scream in frustration... but you’re immediately pulled into the other story and find yourself dying to find out what happens there. This makes reading “Into the Fire” an intense experience, the kind that can make you shake and shiver because it’s just... so... tense. I enjoyed that immensely.

Now, in the present day, we have Inès Picaut, a police inspector and her team of eccentric but lovable specialists who work to solve the case of fires ravaging the city of Orléans. They find a badly burnt memory chip that might contain a clue... but the arsonists’ attacks start claiming victims and the clock is ticking.

In the history part, we have Tomas Rustbeard, a man of many faces – a double agent, a man of war, a priest; French, English... whose task it is to destroy (note that there’s a difference between simply killing and utterly destroying) Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orléans, before she, already a living legend, can bring France victory against the English. The task, though dangerous, seems simple enough, right? Wrong. So, so wrong!

The central theme, or the heart of the story, is the enigmatic figure of Joan of Arc. Who was she really? Scott suggests that she cannot have been a peasant girl who saw religious visions – how could she have been able to ride a warhorse and fight like a knight? Scott presents us with a theory that I cannot reveal (because that would be a major spoiler!) but that is not only fascinating but also makes a lot of sense.

Another theme is history and how it is written and can be rewritten and twisted to serve all sorts of purposes; how facts can be ignored and downright concealed. This is a fascinating topic, and what I found particularly interesting was that Scott’s work seems to reflect this very theme: the author’s thanks at the end of the book mention that there were scholars who contributed to her research but did not want their names mentioned in a connection of a novel that defies the “accepted truth”. Fair enough, yet I was under the naïve illusion that academic discourse (not to mention the world of fiction which the novel represents) ought to question things, be open to new ideas, entertain seemingly impossible possibilities... how else are we to ever gain any new knowledge?

As always, Scott has written fantastic strong female characters. All the characters, in fact, come with their quirks or their baggage or their personal traumas which gives them depth and dimension. If I had to add some criticism, however, I’d say that I did not feel as close to the Maid as I wished (alas, I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters... but my other holiday read delivered on that point, so it’s all good). But then, she was – and still is – an enigma, and although the mystery of who she is/was slowly unravels in the course of the story, and although she is definitely a flesh-and-blood heroine, she is always seen through the eyes of another.

Both stories are fast-paced and gripping, the battle scenes are gritty and brutal, there is mystery (so much mystery!) that will keep you turning the pages. Even the political power play doesn’t get boring. Add to this Scott’s fearless, vivid language (I am a big fan of her style) and I did not want to put the book down.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Ulla,

    thank you for this great review.
    I used to devour historic fiction, but have lately discovered so many other wonderful genres(so many books, so little time ;)) - this however definitely makes me curious enough to give it a shot. It sounds _very_ interesting.

    Best wishes,
    Kathy

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    1. Hi Kathy,

      thanks for reading. :) I certainly enjoyed this, and I'm sure it wasn't just the "holiday effect" (i.e. being able to read more than just a short time every day, while eating chocolate).

      I know, the good old problem of so many books, so little time... and yes, so many interesting genres. But this book combines two genres, so you get historical fiction and a contemporary thriller in one! That must count as saving time if you look at it from a proper angle... ;)

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