Book Review: Brimstone by Cherie Priest
This author has been on my canary radar ever since I first came across the happy chatter surrounding her debut novel Boneshaker – and let’s not forget that gorgeous steampunk cover. So when I saw her latest, Brimstone, I had to have it. That the blurb promised a character with a tortured past was just icing on the cake.
“In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy–for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake. Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower.”
Set against a backdrop of 1920’s spiritualism in small-town Florida, this book follows the two characters as they come to terms with what the spirit haunting Tomas is about. On the one hand we have 22-year-old spinster and budding psychic Alice Dartle, traveling to a spiritualist haven in Florida. On the other, local town tailor and World War I veteran Tomas Cordero who is haunted not just by fire, but by his war experiences and the untimely death of his beloved wife and best friend.
As Alice takes her first tentative steps as a psychic amid a supportive spiritualist community, Thomas is plagued with mysterious fires that ignite around his home. Is he doing it himself? Is it a restless spirit? Is he in danger?
(This is a book. Of course we are all in grave danger.)
The back of the book blurb codes for dramatic and epic storyline, while the actual story falls more along the lines of mystery and historic suspense, with little-to-no romance. It builds steadily, slowly, but without the high octane energy of an action thriller that I had expected from the author of Boneshaker.
In her 2011 review of Boneshaker, The Other Canary said that this author was one to watch. I agree. Priest’s prose and world building continue to be exceptional. And whereas all of Boneshaker’s characters suffered from a mild case of one-dimensionality, Brimstone gives us, on the whole, a fully fleshed out Tomas and a fully realized plot. The jury is still out on Alice and her friends, who developed that odd tendency to act in whatever way the plot needs at about the half-way mark.
If you’re a fan of alternative histories with magic elements, this one might be for you. Get this book for its paranormal mystery amid a gorgeous backdrop of historical Florida, and for the many ways the book makes you worry and agonize over Tomas’ plight, right up to the final resolution.
Book provided for review by the publisher.
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