I seem to be posting book reviews on here a little more regularly than I used to, but don’t expect that to continue! Once I get into the groove of writing my usual stuff again, once in a few months won’t seem so regular, and one of these reviews was meant to go up a long time ago! I expect no more than two or so a year on average. Anyway, this novel is historical fiction, one of those genres I avoid since there’s nothing in particular I like about the genre and I hate the way most people write it, without what I consider even the bare minimum care for the actual facts and mood of the era, but that might be something that’s more often done in a way to offend me in Christian Historical Fiction, which I don’t think this is. Also, while I can’t say I liked Michele’s handling of the historical fiction elements, they were not as center-stage and abhorrent to me as they are sometimes done, and I was mostly able to ignore the fact that it was historical, rather than alternate world (not timeline; I don’t care much for that one either), fiction. And there were one or two places where I rather enjoyed the way Michele’s characters responded to their somewhat historical-setting environments, so it’s not all bad. Anyway, onto the real review!
Author: Michele Quirke
Genre: Historical Fiction
Princess Elizabeth has always idolized and supported her older brother, but when Greg is accused of treason and banished, her loyalty to him is tested in ways she never could’ve imagined. As she leaves her luxurious lifestyle behind to join him in exile, she must learn to cope with the everyday struggles of the working class, all while keeping her true identity a secret. Facing new hardships and the looming threat of execution, Elizabeth will need to toughen up if she has any chance of surviving outside the palace walls.
Prince Gregory spent his entire life trying to prove himself worthy of the crown until his banishment releases him of all the pressures and obligations that have chained him down. Although he has no intention of raising an army to defend his birthright, he soon learns that not everyone is content to let him walk away from the throne. With his sister’s safety and well-being to consider, Gregory must make a decision that will change both their lives forever.
Rating: ★★★★★ (Though I hate starring and rating books!)
The Fires of Treason is, through and through, a character novel (my favorite!). Its plot is centered around the choices and development of the two main characters, Gregory and Elizabeth, and driven by the same. The characters feel like real people, with real flaws, misunderstandings, and stupidities (such as not realizing that one can’t pretend to be a peasant very well while making sure one doesn’t smell like a peasant, or that life in exile instead of as royalty may present such problems as a grumbling stomach!). Sometimes these flaws aren’t quite what one would expect, like with us real people. They are also very well-intentioned and sincere, and I loved that. When The Fires of Treason starts, Gregory is just returning from a campaign where he was told by his father, the King, to kill everyone, and after the rebel army surrendered he settled for only executing its leaders. Even those deaths haunt him, and when Elizabeth tells him he had no choice, he replies:
“Everything is a choice. … and I made the wrong one.”
As they interact with each other, hurt each other, reject each other, make up with each other, and suffer exile (and a botched assassination attempt) together, Gregory and Elizabeth’s characters are further revealed through their responses to each trial and to each other. I couldn’t tell you all of it without giving the plot away, but it was awesome and wonderful! They can act very juvenile (which they are), right after placing everything they have and are in the protection or service of the other. (That is something I enjoyed about this novel; it shows an awesome, very close, well-developed relationship between siblings, definitely not at all romantic).
I loved Gregory. He’s spent most of his life loving and caring for his sister, Elizabeth, as their older sister, Bernadette, is a psychopath. He’s spent his spare time and energy making her toys and being there for her as much as possible, and he has tried, whenever he could, to take the wrath and punishment of their most-unfatherly King for her, making out whatever supposed ‘failing’ of hers had maddened their father was his fault if possible and hiding her whenever that wasn’t possible. When he’s disowned and exiled, he firmly insists that he will be no part of that very thing the rejection of which is the cause for his exile: bloodshed. No matter how many people declare to them that they are ready to fight and die for him, and no matter how hard some of them beg him to reach for the throne that is his ‘birthright’, he declines. He wants no part of the bloodbath that would ensue. He does not want anyone dying in his name. Nonetheless, he has to eventually come to terms with the bitterness and hate boiling up in him that he has always rejected and kept hidden, and find the freedom in his exile. I felt for him so strongly and loved reading about him so much! He’s at once noble and immature, human.
Elizabeth is a good character, too, but she did not resonate with me as much as Gregory did. She’s unwilling to kill so much as a rabbit and cannot be taken on a hunt since she will scare away the prey, but she doesn’t realize the lives a rebellion would cost, and lives under the assumption that, once he is ready, Gregory will reach for the throne. She gives up everything to be with Gregory, and continues to adamantly insists that she is willing to give up everything to be with Gregory, and she means it and would mean it even if she understood what it meant, but she is woefully unaware of what a life in exile, rather than as a princess, involves and grumbles and whines a great deal about its difficulties.
I can’t tell you about every development and response and resolution of Greg and Elizabeth without telling the whole story, but I loved it all, and will call attention to where when Elizabeth learns that he does not intend to be King, Gregory explains to her what the cost of him reaching for the throne would be, all the people Bernadette would kill if she so much as suspected their plans, and she finally gets it. No life is expendable. None.
I will say it again: I really loved the character development. However (and this was not an issue for me), if you are looking for something with deep and complex political intrigue, this may disappoint. I did not mind the simplicity at all, as it gave front and center stage to the characters, but the politics are, though not non-existent, relatively simple and undeveloped. It’s not a political novel.