enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Bruce Holsinger, The Invention of Fire

I read this book about 28-May-2015. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2015. This note was last modified Wednesday, 03-Jun-2015 20:51:00 PDT.

This is book 2 of the "John Gower" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


A second John Gower book.

Once again he deals with regime-change level issues in the England of 1386.

A bunch of bodies, most killed with bullets from "handgonnes" (which means very early non-rifled muzzle-loading muskets, with no trigger or lock mechanism of any sort; you bring an actual coal or burning stick down to the priming pan to fire them) but a few with arrows, are found dumped into the London sewer system under a public outhouse. Many people are worried, and weirdness is flying around.

A strange, convoluted, deep plot is going to kill off a bunch of the top nobility very publicly, to shift the balance of power. Many people think this is bad, either the support the status quo or because they don't believe in massacres.

Gower isn't even the sole solution; Stephen Marsh figures out that something bad is going to be done with the guns he's making in the Tower armory, and he booby-traps them all.

This one has interesting characters and several good romance stories at least sketched in—John Marsh and his former master's wife, and the cook/poacher and the abused wife from another estate. When they manage to make connections and build trust, it's because of work on both sides to be worthy and do actual good (for their partners at least).

Probably because of the romantic sub-plots, I found this one less grim and grinding than the previous one.

Still, there were some pretty damned cold characters. The two massacres we investigate were deliberate experiments, learning to use the guns effectively.

Marsh's conclusion about these amazing new weapons is "The handgonne is the ultimate weapon of the weak." Leslie Fish would be very pleased, and I think I am too (most directly relevant song: "Poor Man's Weapon").

While there are forward references in Gower's narration, he's getting old, the people he has good connections with are mostly moving out of power (though he earns some valuable favors from people who will retain forms of power), and he's gradually going blind. So I don't know how many more books he's really good for.

Don't know where the title comes from or what it refers to. The obvious pun on the military use of "fire" comes to mind, but I don't really find a connection.


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David Dyer-Bennet