Book Review: The Fire Starters by Jane Carson

The Fire Starters
by Jan Carson

Publication date: April 4th 2019
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 304


Dr Jonathan Murray fears his new-born daughter is not as harmless as she seems.

Sammy Agnew is wrestling with his dark past, and fears the violence in his blood lurks in his son, too.

The city is in flames and the authorities are losing control. As matters fall into frenzy, and as the lines between fantasy and truth, right and wrong, begin to blur, who will these two fathers choose to protect?

Source: Goodreads


It’s taking me a very long time to get through the big stack of beautiful books that I won in a Twitter competition back in May (there are too many good books on my TBR list!).

So I’ve read “The Single Mum’s Wish List” and I’ve read “The Forest of Wool and Steel“, next up is Jan Carson’s “The Fire Starters”, a truly unique book set in East Belfast.

“‘The Troubles have only just begun. This is hardly true either. It depends who you’re talking to, how they’re standing, and which particular day you’ve chosen for the chat. Those who are ignorant of our situation can look it up on Wikipedia and find there a three-thousand-word overview.‘”

So I have to admit I was ignorant, and I had to look The Troubles up on Wikipedia. As it turns out, I did know something about the situation in Northern Ireland (I just didn’t know it by this name), but my search has taught me a whole lot more.

The Troubles, however, are not really the main feature here but more of a background to our story. Telling the story of fatherhood in two narratives, the story follows two men, Sammy and Jonathan, who are both afraid of their children in some way. Ex-military Sammy Agnew believes his son to be a destructive criminal setting fires across the city. New father and local GP Jonathan Murray believes his daughter to be a powerful fantastical mythological being.

It’s a strange story, but it works!

Before I started I had no idea that this book was a fantasy story. From the cover and the quotes on the back of the book I was expecting to read about a troubled city full of crime and destruction, perhaps a gang or two. I have to say that I didn’t have high hopes going into this book, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! This is definitely a case for not judging a book by it’s cover.

This is a fantasy story full of gripping and intriguing magical realism. Jan Carson writes beautifully and I really enjoyed the vivid description of Belfast and its residents. Despite being set in a world where almost anything could happen, I could picture everything very clearly, from the mundane every day shopping in Tesco to the truly magical lives of the ‘Unfortunate Children’.

It’s difficult to say a lot more without spoiling the story, so I’ll let you discover the rest yourself. From the two strands, I preferred Jonathan’s story line a lot more and while I appreciate the need and purpose of Sammy’s plot, I would happily have read a whole book of Jonathan and his struggles.

This is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time and it’s certainly offbeat, I’d recommend you give it a go!

Overall rating: “The Fire Starters” is a fantastical story like none I’ve ever read before. The description is vivid and the characters are likeable. I’d recommend this to those looking for something a little different – it’s 4 stars from me.

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