by Cherie Priest
Reviewed by S.A.
I did not expect to love this book as much as I did, and once the plot got rolling, I really devoured it. The novel was truly spellbinding, and I would myself sucked into the pages, feeling the heavy Florida heat and smelling fire all around me.
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. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife s spirit.
But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself….
We’re in 1920s Florida. It’s hot. The radio doesn’t reach everywhere yet. Electricity in homes is relatively new. Prohibition is on, but this is Florida, and Rum overflows. The Great War is over, taking many in its wake; Spanish Influenza has scoured the country, taking even more. It’s here that our story takes place: in the small town of Cassadaga, a home for Spirtalists that still exists to this day.
The novel alternates viewpoints between Alice Dartle, a seventeen year old girl from Virginia, and Tomàs Cordero, a cuban-american who’s just returned from war. At first, I thought I wasn’t going to like Alice: she breaks into tears too easily, sometimes acting more like an impetuous twelve year old than a smart young woman. But soon, I realized that her sensitive side didn’t stop her from being strong and brilliant all the same. Her insatiable love for bourbon, her huge heart, her adorable nervousness; she’s a fun character whom I would love to hang out with. Not to mention that she’s got some interesting skills she wants to develop: talking to spirits, predicting the outcomes of bets, her need to learn has brought her to Cassadaga, in hopes of honing her abilities.
And then, there’s Tomàs. A bit of a tragic character: he returned from the war, but it was his wife who stayed home who passed away. His dear Evelyn died of Influenza. He’s getting his tailoring business up and running again, trying to get things back in order, but for some reason, small fires seem to be following him around. Well, they were small at first. Now, they’re growing. They’re taking more in their wake, but they’re leaving things behind. Things, signs maybe, that make Tomàs think it could be Evelyn, trying to reach to him from beyond, trapped as a spirit. Could it be so? As the novel progresses, he seems more determined than ever, while the reader… less so.
Alice and Tomàs’s lives are connected through her talents. She sees his dreams, sees the man who’s always surrounded by fire. She knows there’s a presence there. When the fires devour more than they should dare, Tomàs makes his way to Cassadaga to beg for help. This isn’t going to be easy.
There was so much to love about this book: the style the author uses flows almost effortlessly, beautifully. The city of Cassadaga which is so beautifully evoked, with the small town feel or Turn of the Century USA while at the same time being a spiritualist camp. I ended up googling Cassadaga, and it still exists! The added sense of realism that comes from an author doing an insane amount of research was very much worth it.
I have to say, my favorite character was Felipe, the chihuahua. Good doggy. But there are so many other great people to meet.
Priest also managed to make a fantastic study of the brutality of war. So many soldiers came back from the front with PTSD, while here Tomàs comes back with something a little more… physical. The horror of the new technology of death used – the invention of the flamethrower, for example – takes a real shape here. Pure evil walks the battlefields.
I have never read a book like this before. It’s very different from what I expected, but I really loved it. The ending was beautiful, touching in a way I didn’t see coming. All in all, we have fantastic characters, fascinating setting, and a talented author to craft this all together. Well worth the read, I highly recommend it.
I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Ace Books! Expected publication, April 4th.