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Summary and book reviews of The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger

The Invention of Fire

by Bruce Holsinger

The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger X
The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sinéad Fitzgibbon
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About this Book

Book Summary

Fourteenth-century London comes alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder.

London, 1386: A mass murder has taken place within the city walls. Sixteen corpses have been dumped where they are sure to be found, bearing wounds like none seen before. John Gower, middling poet and expert trader in secrets, is summoned to investigate the killings even as the ruthless mayor of London seeks to thwart an open inquiry for reasons unknown. Gower learns that the men have fallen victim to handgonnes, new and terrifying weapons that threaten to change the future of war. Challenged by deception and treachery on all sides, Gower struggles against his failing vision even as his inquiries take him from the City's labyrinthine slums to the port of Calais to the forests of Kent, where his friend Geoffrey Chaucer serves as justice of the peace. As Gower strives to discover the source of the new guns and the identity of those who wielded them, he must risk everything to reveal the truth - and prevent a more devastating massacre on London's crowded streets ...

Prologue

THE WATER SEEPED PAST, groping for the dead. It was early on an Ember Saturday, and low down along the deepest channel in London, Alan Pike braced for a fall. He sucked a shallow breath as beside him his son moved through the devilish swill. The boy's arms were thin as sticks but lifted his full spade with a ready effort, even a kind of cheer. Good worker, young Tom, a half knob shy of fourteen, reliable, strong, uncomplaining, despite all a gongfarmer had to moan about—quite a heavy lot, helping the city streams breathe easy. Tom filled another bucket and hefted it to one of the older boys to haul above for the dungcart. From there it would be wheeled outside the walls, likely to feed some bishop's roses.

Night soil, the mayor's men primly called it, though it had commoner names. Dung and gong, fex and flux, turd and purge and shit. Alan Pike and his crew, they called it hard work and wages. Dark work, mostly, as London didn't like its underbelly ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Invention of Fire is a richly resplendent and descriptive murder mystery which conjures up a vivid and wholly realistic depiction of medieval London in all its loud, vibrant, filthy glory...continued

Full Review (637 words).

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(Reviewed by Sinéad Fitzgibbon).

Media Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Perhaps the unlikeliest sleuthing duo in literary-thriller history, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, return in Holsinger’s second medieval mystery…What they find has terrible implication for their era - and ours - in this fascinating, bawdy and quite fun book.

The Washington Post
Holsinger is a graceful guide to the 14th century, lacing his thriller with just the right seasoning of antique words and all the necessary historical detail without any of the fusty smell of a documentary.

New York Times Book Review
The poet John Gower is the perfect narrator and amateur sleuth. . . . Holsinger’s research, alongside the energetic vulgarity of a language in flux, delivers up a world where even the filth is colorful.

Booklist
Gower's self-deprecating wit and Holsinger's skillful conjuring of detailed mental images will appeal to fans of C. J. Sansom and Ariana Franklin.

Kirkus Reviews
A cautionary tale that argues powerfully against handgonnes and their modern descendants.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Holsinger is equally adept at depicting the machinations ofthe rich and powerful and the fears and hopes of the working class, 'desperate to hold on to their small scraps of ground in the face of the great events unfolding around them.'

Library Journal
Starred Review. This excellent period mystery is narrated in a gloriously earthy language that is, long before Shakespeare and the King James Bible, still in the process of taking shape. Fans of the previous book as well as aficionados of the historical genre won't be able to put this novel down.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

John Gower: Separating Fact from Fiction

John Gower Even though Geoffrey Chaucer, medieval England's most colorful and best-known writer is a character in The Invention of Fire, the author Bruce Holsinger chooses the lesser-known poet, John Gower, as his protagonist, relegating the mighty Chaucer to a supporting role.

Compared to our knowledge of Chaucer, of Gower we know relatively little. This paucity of information may indeed explain why Holsinger plumped for Gower as his protagonist - a blank canvas is much more inviting to a novelist than one which is already full of color.

Who was the real John Gower? How much of Holsinger's portrayal is based in fact, and how much is the work of fertile imagination? We tease out truth from possible fiction here.

Facts
Holsinger's Gower is...

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