The Invention of Fire: A Novel, by Bruce Holsinger, (William Morrow), 432 pages, release date April 21, 2015
Last February, I reviewed Bruce Holsinger’s novel A Burnable Book, which was set during the reign of Richard II with a central character drawn from history, the poet John Gower, who he also depicts as a blackmailer and detective—and a friend of the better-known writer Chaucer. Now, in The Invention of Fire, John Gower is back, attempting to solve a multiple murder and international intrigue that revolves around the newly developed “handgonne.”
Holsinger, a much-honored scholar of the medieval period, knows (as one would expect) his characters and setting. The Invention of Fire is full of the kinds of details that both make the story ring true and that are of interest in their own right: the layout of London during Richard II’s reign, the interactions between members of different classes, the legal system, the complex politics in English-occupied Calais.
The Invention of Fire is a stronger novel than its predecessor, with multiple strands to its plot that ultimately pull together effectively, but not too tidily. Its ending is appropriately ambiguous, given Gower’s primary identity as a poet. Now that I’ve seen what Holsinger has done with his second volume in this series, I’m eagerly awaiting the next adventure of John Gower.