Fire Child’s dark heroine is the young Tessa who from the age of 12 uses the power of her smile to seduce men, with damaging and dramatic consequences. The novel interplays her chilling and funny diaries with those of Martin Sherman, a dangerous young man who likes to play with fire. We know they will meet and all hell (possibly literally) will break loose. Meanwhile he stacks shelves at a supermarket, she works at a nearby estate agent’s. Both are hiding, leading deliberately dull lives in north London, afraid of what they have already done and what they are capable of. But when they meet, everything changes. Their union is devastating. Hypnotic, vivid and unputdownable, Sally Emerson’s blazing love story throbs with lust and black humour.
Fire Child by Sally Emerson Review
A Dark, Demonic and Disturbing Yet Compelling Thriller
As a mother I find it difficult sometimes to focus on anything heavy after a tough day… so generally head towards the section of the bookshop that plays host to quick and easy to read romance novels that require little to no brain power.
Fire Child can only be described as a novel that would take me out of my general comfort zone, but I think that is why The Glass House Girls gave me this particular book to review. Sometimes it is all too easy to stick to what we know, but the beauty of reading is that it can transport you to a world you don’t know. So why stick with the world we feel comfortable with?
The novel Fire Child, by Sally Emerson, was originally published in 1987 and is now being re-published as part of a Rediscovered Classic Series. In fact Quartet Books are republishing six of Emerson’s novels to bring modern readers enjoyment through these bizarre twisted love stories.
I was told this book would force me to look at things a little differently, so, as I read the first few pages I was filled with eager anticipation and intrigue.
I won’t lie, I found Fire Child a particularly heavy read. I am used to picking up a book in the early evening and laying on the couch totally ensconced in the story until I have finished it. I have been known to lay awake most of the night as I am transported to another world where I simply cannot put the book down for fear of breaking the magic spell.
Or perhaps I’m procrastinating having to return to the ‘real’ world which never seems to live up to the expectations of the beautifully crafted, perfect fantasy worlds created in the books I all too often read.
Reading Fire Child was by no means one of these comfortably easy books, it was almost the opposite for me. It ended up taking me two days to finish! Now I know for many that would seem quick, but for me, this was longer than it has taken me to read a book for a very long time…
I started reading in the early evening as I so often do. As I read through the first few pages I knew immediately that this book was going be very different to what I have usually read. There was an air of malice right from the very first page and Emerson had me already thinking about where this book would end up.
The novel is written as a series of journal entries belonging to the two young protagonists whose journey we follow through wild and destructive adventures. Emerson alternates journal entries to tell the story from the eyes of each of the central characters.
The first diary entry belongs to the leading male character, named Martin Sherman. He is living what appears to be a simple uncomplicated life, in a small rundown apartment block and works at the local grocery store stocking shelves. The subsequent journal entry is written by a young woman called Tessa Armstrong who appears to be living the life of a recluse still failing to come to terms with the repercussions of disturbing incidents from her past.
Emerson wastes no time setting the scene at the start of the book. Instead she delves straight into the wicked and chilling dark pasts of each of the main characters. We quickly learn that Martin is a reclusive pyromaniac and is somewhat obsessed by a devil like character he sees regularly in his visions.
Tessa on the other hand discovered at a very young age that she could use her body as a form of sexual persuasion to seduce any man in the room. The alternating journal entries really help to immerse the reader in the book as they are transported along the journey of each character. An empathetic rapport naturally develops between the reader and Tessa and Martin as the diary entries allow us to experience the trials and tribulations of the characters firsthand.
I eagerly read for a few hours that first night but was left feeling quite frustrated with the book at the end of Part 1 (the book is broken into 3 Parts). I found myself needing to re-read sections of the book as I became confused over the minor characters and their relationships with Martin and Tessa. In addition to this, I needed to double check my understanding of parts of the plot. This frustration was exacerbated by the fact I hadn’t managed to read as much of the book as I would have liked to that night.
Thinking back on this now, these frustrations were not actually a result of the book, the story line, or the writing style. Instead they are a direct reflection of me as a reader. You see, I have the tendency to speed read and in doing so when reading Fire Child, it made me miss vital bits of information which changed my understanding of characters and the events that took place. Had I simply slowed down from the beginning, I would have been able to fully concentrate and avoid these frustrations.
Overnight and the following morning my brain involuntarily wandered off into the world of Martin and Tessa and I found myself intrigued as to what would happen to each of these characters. I spent some time pondering the plot and the characters’ motivations and could not stop the questions in my head surrounding possible endings.
Whilst I clearly knew by this point that I was reading a genre that was a little outside of my normal comfort zone, I had an overwhelming sense of desire to find out if any of the endings I had conjured up in my own mind were even close to the mark.
When the relationship of the protagonists develops in the second half of the book, I found myself engulfed in a bizarre love story full of dark and disturbing events that culminate in fires, sexual destruction and deaths.
Turning the last page of the book I was left feeling numb and chilled to the bone, but I still had so many questions that seemed to be unanswered.
What led Martin to become obsessed with fire and to use people to get what he wants in life? What could possibly have led Tessa to discover she was gifted in the art of playing temptress and seductress aged just 13? How does a child of that age even know how to use such powers of persuasion? Was there a greater evil at play here?
With most fluffy romance novels and psychological thrillers, everything seems to be tied up with a pretty bow by the turn of the last page. With a book such as this, the author leaves us really asking questions of ourselves, of the motivations of the character, and in a way we are desperate and thirsty for more.
Without giving too much away, the ending of the book was simply unimaginable – none of my guesses were even close to the mark. The volatile pairing of a nymphomaniac and pyromaniac leads to a truly demonic and evil union. Perhaps the union itself is the penultimate ending – has Emerson demonstrated the true creation of Lucifer?
With all that being said, I sit here and ponder, will I read another of Emerson’s books? Had you asked me immediately after I finished the book I probably would have said no and would have given a rating of two. I’m really glad now that I waited for a few days before writing this review because my opinion certainly changed in that time.
Since finishing the book, I have constantly found myself thinking about the story line and the characters. Many of the books I have read in the past left no questions unanswered, and you knew that everyone lived happily ever after.However, Fire Child has left its individual mark on me.
I have probably thought more about this book since finishing it than I have any other book I have ever read!
So go on… ask me now: the answer is yes, I would definitely read more of Emerson’s books.
Although the story line was intense and a little heavy for me at times, I think her writing style was spot on for this kind of novel. It pulled me out of my comfort zone and forced me to face very confronting situations that I had never dreamed I would read and actually enjoy.
If I am left asking these questions now about Fire Child, what questions will her next book yield?
This book was reviewed by: Casey Ravindran for The Glass House Book Club.
Published by: Quartet Books