Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 432 pages (US Hardcover edition)
Published: 2nd October 2012 by Ace (US)
A bleak historical fantasy/horror about life, death, faith, and hope.
Christopher Buehlman is a new author to me this year. Unlike most of Buehlman’s fans, I found out about his work through reading his recently published book, The Blacktongue Thief, six months ago. Unlike his previous books, The Blacktongue Thief was his first epic fantasy book, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it, especially after finding out that apparently, he has released plenty of horror novels before. Seeing how much I enjoyed his first adult fantasy book, I knew I had to give his previous books a try, even if they’re not essentially my favorite genre to read. I decided to start from Between Two Fires, and the author blessed me with a first edition of Between Two Fires to read and review. So what do I, a non-horror reader, think about this book?
“How did Heaven come into all of this? Heaven was life, not death. Heaven was a woman holding your head in the crook of her arm and looking down at you. Heaven was a warm hand on your cheek and the smell of soup with garlic on the fire.”
First of all, Between Two Fires is a bit hard to categorize; it’s a blend of horror, fantasy, and historical fiction in one package. The story takes place in the year 1348, the years of the Black Death, and it follows Thomas, a disgraced knight who found a lone young girl alone in a dead Norman village. The girl tells Thomas that the plague is just the beginning of a bigger cataclysm, the fallen angels united by Lucifer are planning to wage their war on Heaven. Earth, unfortunately, is the battleground. She tells Thomas she needs to get to Avignon to fulfill her mission. And they’re not the only two main characters; they’re also joined by a priest. Whether they succeed or not, that’s for you to find out for yourself. Between Two Fires is a bleak tale; darkness, despair, and dread accompany these characters every step of their way. What made Between Two Fires a good book, though, is not solely because of the vivid setting and atmosphere, but it’s the theme of redemption.
I approached Between Two Fires expecting it will deliver me a dark story in a bleak setting, and Buehlman successfully delivered on that. Plus, several readers have also told me that this novel reminded them of Berserk by Kentaro Miura and Dark Souls video games; both are precious to me. And again, I could see why it’s interpreted that way, and I do—to a certain level—agree with them. However, I totally didn’t expect the great character development imbued into the narrative. Buehlman has mentioned that no matter the genre he writes, whether it’s horror or fantasy, plot or characters still need to work for readers. The narrative still has to be compelling, and I do enjoy reading Buehlman’s prose. This book is vastly different from The Blacktongue Thief, and I’m impressed by the range of Buehlman’s storytelling style.
“Love is always harder. Love means weathering blows for another’s sake and not counting them. Love is loss of self, loss of other, and faith in the death of loss.”
Now, three reasons summed up why this book didn’t receive a higher rating from me. First, the allegorical style of the story took me longer than I expected to get used to. Secondly, there were many dream sequences, and although they were great on their own, as a whole though, they ended up confusing me. I could be wrong, but I think the characters were dragged through the seven deadly sins. The main story is linear, but the way to get to the conclusion meanders quite a lot more than I expected. In a way, they’re great for character development; finding out the main character’s regret were a good choice. Lastly, I wanted the climax sequences to be more explosive. I found that it ended too quickly after all their struggle.
Overall, although the execution of Between Two Fires didn’t fully click for me, I still think that this is a great book that you should try if you’re in the mood for a historical horror. One of my Booktube viewers told me that if you love reading Hellmouth by Giles Kristian, then this is worth taking a look. And yes, I do think that’s an accurate assessment. I’m mainly a fantasy reader, and that’s a huge reason why I loved The Blacktongue Thief more than Between Two Fires. Once again, I’m grateful to Buehlman for sending me this copy, and I will undoubtedly treasure it.
You can order the book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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