Throughout my previous posts I have made no secret of my love for historical fiction. Although I have my favourite periods in time the thrill of acquring new knowledge and making new discoveries never leaves me.
Children of Fire by Paul C W Beatty has certainly ticked all my historical fiction boxes and more. Set in the early Victorian period this is a novel which embraces so many cultural changes and significant historical shifts.
The central character Josiah, is a young man recently recruited to the newly formed Stockport police force. Having grown up as the adopted son of a Methodist Minister, Josiah has strong moral foundations. Foundations which have been rocked by his experiences travelling abroad. When we meet Josiah, he is a man mired in self doubt and guilt, questioning his sense of place and identity.
Joining the newly formed Stockport Police force is a way of attempting to outrun his own demons. However Josiah is not a man confident of his professional abilities, so when he finds himself send to the Furness Vale to quietly investigate links between an explosion in a powder mill and a breakaway religious community, The Children of Fire, he feels out of his depth.
What was supposed to be a low level fact finding mission, with Josiah working undercover, quickly becomes a full scale investigation following the violent and seemingly ritualistic death of the community’s leader Elijah Bradshawe.
Suddenly the links and relationships Josiah has made within the group and the wider community are threatened as he is forced to reveal his true identity and begin to unpick complex motivations and allegiances, both past and present.
Much more than a classic whodunnit, the novel touches upon and embraces many social issues of the day. In a world on the very edge of the Industrial Revolution, poverty and power exist side by side. The author weaves through the story a growing and unsettling feeling of imbalance and rising tensions which will ultimately shape the future of England’s industrial North.
The character development is solid. The flawed hero we see in Josiah provides opportunities for other characters to make there presence and motivations felt within the narrative. It is always pleasing to encounter strong female characters. Within the novel the role of women in the shaping of this part of history is not overlooked, conversely it is crucial.
Children of Fire offers a unique perspective on a crucial and often dark time in our countries history. Many thanks to Rachel, of Rachel’s Random Resources and of course author Paul Beatty for giving me a chance to read and review.