Happy Book Birthday to Paul CW Beatty and Children Of Fire. I’m pleased to be taking part in the blog tour and, in a first for Portable Magic, I’m handing over my reviewing reins to Dan Moorhouse of Schools History.Dan’s review is written with thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting us on the blog tour and for the copy of the book via the publisher.
Children of Fire is set in 1841, at the height of the industrial revolution in the North West England. The story is told through the eyes of Josiah Ainscough, who returns from travels on the continent, and he surprises everyone by joining the Stockport Police Force, rather than following his adopted father’s footsteps into the Methodist Ministry. While Josiah was abroad, five men died in an explosion at the Furness Vale Powder Mill. Was this an accident, or did the Children of Fire, a local religious community, have a hand in it? As a policeman Josiah must uncover the truths behind the Children of Fire, and Josiah is forced to solve the puzzle of the violence loose in the Furness Vale, before more people die. Josiah is torn between his affections for Rachael, a leading member of the Children of Fire, and the vivacious Aideen Hayes, a visitor from Ireland. With more crimes unfolding rapidly, Josiah struggles to prevent a large illicit shipment of military grade gunpowder from getting to Ireland for use in terrorist attacks, and it becomes clear that he is out of his depth.
Children of Fire is set in Stockport in the Victorian Era (1841). Beatty quickly acclimatises his readers to the scene. Though it is the height of the Industrial Revolution and a setting close to the cotton mills of Lancashire, the reader is made to feel at home through the use of easily recognisable locations and scenarios: in the first instance, the time old setting of the marketplace.
You quickly get a sense of the main protagonist and the type of novel that Children of Fire will be. Josiah Ainscough is introduced as an adoptive son, easily angered by but equally curious about his birth parents. Having been brought up by the local Methodist priest, it is widely expected that he will take on a role in the ministry.
Ainscough opts though to take up an altogether different path. He joins the Stockport Borough Police. As a reader with an interest in history of the period this peaked my interest, Beatty was rather bravely selecting a period and location in which the force had only just been established.
In this role he is asked to investigate the Children of Fire, a religious community. Accepted under the cover of a traveller, he soon finds himself the subject of suspicion himself when the groups leader in brutally murdered. The mixture of being both the investigator and a suspected person lends itself to a number of twists and turns in the plot.
Ainscough is also subject to love interests which are used in the plot as tools that help him to uncover evidence about the identity of the killer. It is the second of these leads which generates an increase in the pace of the storyline, becoming fast, gripping and very engaging.
The attention to historical detail in Children of Fire is good, so the story will appeal to fans of historical fiction. It written in a classic ‘whodunit’ style with a number of twists and turns as typifies crime based drama. I personally found the ending a little predictable but others may well be thrown by a late twist in the plot.
As a history fan first and a fiction fan second, I am one of those nuisance readers who likes the details to be as accurate as possible. In this aspect Paul CW Beatty has performed very well indeed. He selects the Stockport Borough Police as the basis for his protagonists work. This force was in its infancy having only been formed by Act of Parliament in 1826 and amended to a Borough Force in 1836. At the time it had just 11 officers. It makes it plausible that a relative newcomer to the newly formed Borough Police Force could be sent on undercover work.
Children Of Fire is available from Amazon.
Visit the Schools History page dedicated to historical fiction here.