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The author of the acclaimed medieval mystery A Burnable Book once again brings fourteenth-century London alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder. Though he is one of England’s most acclaimed intellectuals, John Gower is no stranger to London’s wretch The author of the acclaimed medieval mystery A Burnable Book once again brings fourteenth-century London alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder. Though he is one of England’s most acclaimed intellectuals, John Gower is no stranger to London’s wretched slums and dark corners, and he knows how to trade on the secrets of the kingdom’s most powerful men. When the bodies of sixteen unknown men are found in a privy, the Sheriff of London seeks Gower’s help. The men’s wounds—ragged holes created by an unknown object—are unlike anything the sheriff’s men have ever seen. Tossed into the sewer, the bodies were meant to be found. Gower believes the men may have been used in an experiment—a test for a fearsome new war weapon his informants call the “handgonne,” claiming it will be the “future of death” if its design can be perfected. Propelled by questions of his own, Gower turns to courtier and civil servant Geoffrey Chaucer, who is working on some poems about pilgrims that Gower finds rather vulgar. Chaucer thinks he just may know who commissioned this new weapon, an extremely valuable piece of information that some will pay a high price for—and others will kill to conceal. . . 


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The author of the acclaimed medieval mystery A Burnable Book once again brings fourteenth-century London alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder. Though he is one of England’s most acclaimed intellectuals, John Gower is no stranger to London’s wretch The author of the acclaimed medieval mystery A Burnable Book once again brings fourteenth-century London alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder. Though he is one of England’s most acclaimed intellectuals, John Gower is no stranger to London’s wretched slums and dark corners, and he knows how to trade on the secrets of the kingdom’s most powerful men. When the bodies of sixteen unknown men are found in a privy, the Sheriff of London seeks Gower’s help. The men’s wounds—ragged holes created by an unknown object—are unlike anything the sheriff’s men have ever seen. Tossed into the sewer, the bodies were meant to be found. Gower believes the men may have been used in an experiment—a test for a fearsome new war weapon his informants call the “handgonne,” claiming it will be the “future of death” if its design can be perfected. Propelled by questions of his own, Gower turns to courtier and civil servant Geoffrey Chaucer, who is working on some poems about pilgrims that Gower finds rather vulgar. Chaucer thinks he just may know who commissioned this new weapon, an extremely valuable piece of information that some will pay a high price for—and others will kill to conceal. . . 

30 review for The Invention of Fire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Geevee

    I picked this up in my library with no knowledge of the author and only as it was being put out on the shelf as I passed by, and a shiny new library book is always a pleasure to grab and take home. This is a very well written and enjoyable fictional glimpse into medieval England and in particular London in 1386 during the reign of Richard II. What I really enjoyed was the author's - who is an American professor of English language and literature - description of life, law and lawlessness during h I picked this up in my library with no knowledge of the author and only as it was being put out on the shelf as I passed by, and a shiny new library book is always a pleasure to grab and take home. This is a very well written and enjoyable fictional glimpse into medieval England and in particular London in 1386 during the reign of Richard II. What I really enjoyed was the author's - who is an American professor of English language and literature - description of life, law and lawlessness during his chosen period. The central character John Gower is a good citizen but with flaws and worries. His relationship with Geoffrey Chaucer is interesting and intriguing in what the great poet and writer may have done or whom he may have befriended. Overall the story goes along at great pace with much interest on various characters and situations that circle around the politics and rivalries of the day with the added measure of the new devil weapon the handgonne. I hadn't read Professor Holsinger's first book A Burnable Book but I didn't feel disadvantaged through this, so I would suggest it can be read as a stand alone novel; although I will now look to read the first at some stage. I look forward to journeying with John Gower in his next adventure. My only - and these are minor complaints within the book - is the use of the term fall for autumn (or rather in Plantagenet England Harvest). Fall was I understand not in common use in England during this period and autumn generally replaced harvest later and remains to this day. Also the use of trash, which again I understand not to be in common used in this period but rather later in England and mainly for poor writing (Shakespeare uses it) or garden/hedge clippings. Edited to correct mispelling of devil from devel (!).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    Bruce Holsinger, please keep writing John Gower books. Simon Vance, please keep reading them to me. This is the perfect combination of story and voice. The topic of this second volume of John Gower adventures is that despised new invention, *handgonnes*. Their use is off to a bad start, of course: a mass murder. 1300s England comes to life through the (failing) eyes of John Gower, his friend Geoffrey Chaucer, and various other characters from nobility to riffraff and everyone in between. I was pl Bruce Holsinger, please keep writing John Gower books. Simon Vance, please keep reading them to me. This is the perfect combination of story and voice. The topic of this second volume of John Gower adventures is that despised new invention, *handgonnes*. Their use is off to a bad start, of course: a mass murder. 1300s England comes to life through the (failing) eyes of John Gower, his friend Geoffrey Chaucer, and various other characters from nobility to riffraff and everyone in between. I was pleased with a bit of a revisit from our "swerver" friend from A Burnable Book. I love the fact that I've met with the author a few times and know of his brilliance in the subject of Medieval times. As is so often the case, I've learned much about history through fiction. I love a map. I love London. Here's a fun site to explore the Medieval setting: http://www.bruceholsinger.com/a-burna... Enthusiastically recommend!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Whew! Difficult read. It's a 4.5 star but I rounded it up for the incredible amount of research and authenticity for the late 14th century in England that Bruce Holsinger develops within this book. This is a John Gower, our sheriff and finder, his book #2. But it was completely a stand alone in its scope and its detail. I had not read #1 and yet found this book entrancing. SO MANY WORDS, English words and usages that are archaic or at least not in common state of grammar. And the baseness of some o Whew! Difficult read. It's a 4.5 star but I rounded it up for the incredible amount of research and authenticity for the late 14th century in England that Bruce Holsinger develops within this book. This is a John Gower, our sheriff and finder, his book #2. But it was completely a stand alone in its scope and its detail. I had not read #1 and yet found this book entrancing. SO MANY WORDS, English words and usages that are archaic or at least not in common state of grammar. And the baseness of some of the oaths and declarations! What amount of English words have been lost and some so much more hygienically so. The plot is nebulous and as wandering of purposes as a cancer growth. The French the enemy? The technology all changing? Who is selling saltpetre for the new snakes? And we have Chaucer and a cutpurse earless lad embedded within the tale. Pregnant widow and husband murderer adulteress added well to the mix. And crime as thick as the privy dirt and gore. Accidental homicide. What else can I say. But the LANGUAGE! Superb, superb. And a very difficult read. The context and underpinning of some of the conversations need a triple perusal. Well done! And I will visit John Gower again. And wont to know if Simon is still standing in Calais or double cover spying for the French, or if London does any attempt at a clean up for privy stands. This was a kindle read and took me four times as long as a normal book of this many pages. It's filled with metal technology, Tyburn doings, lengths of law court and scrivener procedure placements- so be warned. Highly recommend for the brave who'll attempt this setting and language. If you do, you will be paid off by some proper Chaucer near the ending. Excellent work. Makes you wonder if he'll find a large enough market. I sure hope so. And the handgonnes? "Staying my hand was hardly an act of nobility, Woodstock." Brembre's nose rang out a final mayoral sniff. "Civil war is always bad for trade."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Disclosure up front: I took a Coursera class led by Prof. Bruce Holsinger two years ago. This is the second of Bruce Holsinger's books featuring poet John Gower as a detective. Like A Burnable Book, the first tale, this book is rich in historical detail and entertaining characters. There are a couple of subplots that eventually come together. The first plot begins when 16 dead bodies are found in London's "Long Drop" public privy by the night-soil removers. The second involves Stephen Marsh, a ski Disclosure up front: I took a Coursera class led by Prof. Bruce Holsinger two years ago. This is the second of Bruce Holsinger's books featuring poet John Gower as a detective. Like A Burnable Book, the first tale, this book is rich in historical detail and entertaining characters. There are a couple of subplots that eventually come together. The first plot begins when 16 dead bodies are found in London's "Long Drop" public privy by the night-soil removers. The second involves Stephen Marsh, a skilled metalworker who is indentured to the bell-maker for whom he was once an employee. The third involves Gower himself, who is losing his sight and wondering how he is going to make a living. The mystery concerning the bodies is complex and really does take the entire book to resolve. There are more twists and turns than can possibly be imagined; every time I thought I had it figured out, it turned out that I was wrong. Holsinger has taken his expertise in historic novels and applied it to great effect in his own work. He knows how much detail to include in order to set the stage without being pedantic, and how to create three-dimensional, believable characters to love or hate (no one is perfectly good or bad, just all perfectly human ... and some of them kinder than others). I would not hesitate to recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and/or historical mysteries.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karen Keane

    I read this for the Readers Group I run, and although I do normally really enjoy this type of historical fiction, I found this book a bit too long and at times confusing. I felt there were too many characters in the book and the chapters switched from one character to another, there were so many different people's stories been told that I felt that you didn't get to know any of the characters properly. On the plus points it was really well researched and wonderfully descriptive. I read this for the Readers Group I run, and although I do normally really enjoy this type of historical fiction, I found this book a bit too long and at times confusing. I felt there were too many characters in the book and the chapters switched from one character to another, there were so many different people's stories been told that I felt that you didn't get to know any of the characters properly. On the plus points it was really well researched and wonderfully descriptive.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elspeth G. Perkin

    A rewarding tale of returns and the dangers of playing with fire… This savory historical series continues to claim my attention and to be a solid recommendation to other readers who may have been searching for a literary experience that quickly immerses them into embattled lanes of survival in 14th-century London and beyond the realm. That not only holds brilliantly noted facets of historical research that ties everything together by the final page but offers the chance to follow a shrewd narrato A rewarding tale of returns and the dangers of playing with fire… This savory historical series continues to claim my attention and to be a solid recommendation to other readers who may have been searching for a literary experience that quickly immerses them into embattled lanes of survival in 14th-century London and beyond the realm. That not only holds brilliantly noted facets of historical research that ties everything together by the final page but offers the chance to follow a shrewd narrator into the very depths of intrigue, greed and betrayal that courses through 14th-century Europe. And believe me when I say, this can become quite the ride if the reader is patient enough to find out what will happen next. In The Invention of Fire, Mr. Holsinger takes us on a fascinating journey that begins with a ghastly discovery of mass murder. The story then slinks into the voice of John Gower who seizes the opportunity to find out the ultimate reasons and motive behind such cruel acts. From there this tale then spreads into the darkest reaches of London to over the guarded gates and walls to the four corners of England and to even across the sea. This is accomplished with a huge cast of characters that range from the genteel standing to ambitious founders, desperate criminals and even a familiar lane of maudlyns makes a brief appearance. With each passing chapter another point of view and distinct locale is visited and where it all leads is whether the reader believes in happy endings or a bleak uncertain future. For this reader, The Invention of Fire was a complex gripping mystery/thriller that although asked for some patience and was a little confusing with the shifting chapters and multiple viewpoints- it was still well worth it by the final page. This was one read that once the foundation of the story was firmly set it became very hard to put down and engaged so many different subjects in a very clever manner. The historical details in this novel were just perfect to set to a murder mystery and it is assured the curious will learn something new about the 14th century. Whether the reader is interested in military history, literary, metalwork, medical or even daily life in 1386, The Invention of Fire (John Gower, #2) has a hidden joy just waiting for you to find. Overall, a fine choice for those readers who love a stand-alone novel chocked full of distinct personalities, gritty realism and a truly intricate plot that could never be considered predictable. * I would like to thank William Morrow and Edelweiss for the opportunity to read and enjoy The Invention of Fire: John Gower, #2

  7. 4 out of 5

    Albert

    The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger is a terrific mystery about the age of modern weaponry and it's introduction into the English culture. It is London, 1386, and mass murder has taken place within the city walls. Sixteen dead bodies have been found, bearing wounds like none that have been seen before. "...Shield fragments, I would say,' said Baker. 'Carried there by the ball, and lodged in the skin around the point of penetration.' We both knew, in that moment, what he was about to tell us The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger is a terrific mystery about the age of modern weaponry and it's introduction into the English culture. It is London, 1386, and mass murder has taken place within the city walls. Sixteen dead bodies have been found, bearing wounds like none that have been seen before. "...Shield fragments, I would say,' said Baker. 'Carried there by the ball, and lodged in the skin around the point of penetration.' We both knew, in that moment, what he was about to tell us, though neither of us could quite believe it. 'These men have been shot, good masters, of that I am certain. Though not with an arrow, nor with a bolt.' The surgeon turned fully to us, his face somber. 'These men were killed with hand cannon. Handgonnes, fired with powder, and delivering a small iron shot.' Handgonnes. A word new to me in that moment, though one that would shape and fill the weeks to come. I looked out over the graves pocking the St. Bart's churchyard, their inhabitants victims of pestilence, accident, hunger, and crime, yet despite their numberless fates it seemed that man was ever inventing new ways to die..." John Gower was a blackmailer for lack of a better term. A man who traded in the secrets of nobility to sway one or the other to his advantage. He was also a poet of some renown. He is also the man who saved the crown and solved the riddle of the Burnable Book. With his ability to solve riddles, he is asked to looked into the dead bodies and solve the mystery surrounding their deaths. If the sixteen did die by this new weapon, then why? And what terror does such a weapon hold in the hands of unknown assailants? Gower has little time as an armory is being built of these Handgonnes and a shift in the power of the city is soon to come. The Invention of Fire is thick with political intrigue and guile. Introduce into the lion's den of politics that is medieval London, the firearm of a handgun and power can shift overnight. Holsinger brings the time and setting of the city into detailed focus and the back stabbing and nefarious dealing of the city government as well. Gower is the perfect character as an outsider who through his trade in secrets, is yet privy to many of the going ons of the elite. Holsinger weaves several subplots together but ties them up neatly as the novel comes to its conclusion. A well written historical novel that moves steadily toward its final page. A good read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    It is the year 1386, and the bodies of 16 men have been found dumped in a public privy in the city of London, all of the corpses bearing strange wounds. John Gower, who makes his living trading secrets, is hired to discover not only the cause of death and the culprit responsible but who these men are. As he follows the evidence, he discovers that they were killed by a very recent invention – the handgonne. His investigation is stymied by some very powerful men including the Mayor of London as wel It is the year 1386, and the bodies of 16 men have been found dumped in a public privy in the city of London, all of the corpses bearing strange wounds. John Gower, who makes his living trading secrets, is hired to discover not only the cause of death and the culprit responsible but who these men are. As he follows the evidence, he discovers that they were killed by a very recent invention – the handgonne. His investigation is stymied by some very powerful men including the Mayor of London as well as his failing eyesight and even his friend, Chaucer, warns him against continuing. But as the number of dead mounts and he is sent to Calais after villagers are murdered indiscriminately in the open marketplace by what appear to be English soldiers using handgonnes, Gower is determined to discover the truth but even he, a man who has spent his life dealing with the worst kinds of intrigue, is unprepared for what and who is behind it and how far they will go to achieve their intended ends. The handgun changed the course of war, a fact that author Bruce Holsinger uses brilliantly to construct one intriguing and well-written historical mystery in his novel The Invention of Fire. Full of interesting characters and even more interesting history, he brings to life the world of Medieval England in all its often unkempt glory and best of all, he makes it exciting. This is the second in the series featuring John Gower but the first I’ve read - I can say with certainty, however, that it won’t be my last.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    Last February, I reviewed Bruce Holsinger’s novel A Burnable Book, which was set during the reign of Richard II with a central character drawn from history, the poet John Gower, who he also depicts as a blackmailer and detective—and a friend of the better-known writer Chaucer. Now, in The Invention of Fire, John Gower is back, attempting to solve a multiple murder and international intrigue that revolves around the newly developed “handgonne.” Holsinger, a much-honored scholar of the medieval per Last February, I reviewed Bruce Holsinger’s novel A Burnable Book, which was set during the reign of Richard II with a central character drawn from history, the poet John Gower, who he also depicts as a blackmailer and detective—and a friend of the better-known writer Chaucer. Now, in The Invention of Fire, John Gower is back, attempting to solve a multiple murder and international intrigue that revolves around the newly developed “handgonne.” Holsinger, a much-honored scholar of the medieval period, knows (as one would expect) his characters and setting. The Invention of Fire is full of the kinds of details that both make the story ring true and that are of interest in their own right: the layout of London during Richard II’s reign, the interactions between members of different classes, the legal system, the complex politics in English-occupied Calais. The Invention of Fire is a stronger novel than its predecessor, with multiple strands to its plot that ultimately pull together effectively, but not too tidily. Its ending is appropriately ambiguous, given Gower’s primary identity as a poet. Now that I’ve seen what Holsinger has done with his second volume in this series, I’m eagerly awaiting the next adventure of John Gower.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Mr Holsinger has once again written a marvelous historical fiction/mystery involving both John Gower as his primary amateur sleuth and including other colorful characters like Chaucer and the Duke of Gloucester. The plot twists and turns but deals with the introduction of the first handguns in warfare, which remarkably changed the tenor of warfare. It is a well written book incorporating real historical figures and fictional ones and the most engaging characters like the earless cut purse child. Mr Holsinger has once again written a marvelous historical fiction/mystery involving both John Gower as his primary amateur sleuth and including other colorful characters like Chaucer and the Duke of Gloucester. The plot twists and turns but deals with the introduction of the first handguns in warfare, which remarkably changed the tenor of warfare. It is a well written book incorporating real historical figures and fictional ones and the most engaging characters like the earless cut purse child. I try to read these books slowly to savor them, much as I do Bernard Cornwall. I don't rush cause I don't want them to be over.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cheyanne

    The author is a professor of medieval history and I enjoyed the detailed depiction of life in 14th century London in his previous novel, A Burnable Book. Unfortunately, all I can recall of the plot of that first novel is that it was overlong, talky and confusing, and the tangle of storylines in The Invention of Fire is even more frustrating. The novel begins well, as the invention of history's first handheld firearms creates mystery, fear and political intrigue. But there are soon too many loose The author is a professor of medieval history and I enjoyed the detailed depiction of life in 14th century London in his previous novel, A Burnable Book. Unfortunately, all I can recall of the plot of that first novel is that it was overlong, talky and confusing, and the tangle of storylines in The Invention of Fire is even more frustrating. The novel begins well, as the invention of history's first handheld firearms creates mystery, fear and political intrigue. But there are soon too many loosely related subplots involving too many characters with too little relationship to each other. A promising storyline about two fugitives from the law who disguise themselves as pious gentlefolk and join a pilgrimage could have been a good starting point for an entirely separate novel, but it's so peripheral to the main action as to be wasted here. That being said, if Prof. Holsinger were to produce a third installment with a more disciplined plot-- and a much larger role for Eleanor the Swyrver--I would likely check it out.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    So much better than the first installment. I'm so glad I decided to read this as it is so much better than A Burnable Book in many ways. The pacing and narrative name this a better read. While still a very dense novel (not a bad thing) this moved asking at a much better pace. I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to more about John Gower. So much better than the first installment. I'm so glad I decided to read this as it is so much better than A Burnable Book in many ways. The pacing and narrative name this a better read. While still a very dense novel (not a bad thing) this moved asking at a much better pace. I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to more about John Gower.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Aishwarya Saxena

    John Gower, unsuccessful poet, blackmailer, and a reluctant investigator is not an easy man to like. A court official who knew London well and a good friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, he became closely associated with the nobility and even professed an acquaintance with King Richard II. His potential to be a fictional ‘trader of secrets’ in a city of shadows, fear and filth was compelling, and one seized upon with imagination, relish and consummate mastery by Bruce Holsinger, an award-winning scholar John Gower, unsuccessful poet, blackmailer, and a reluctant investigator is not an easy man to like. A court official who knew London well and a good friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, he became closely associated with the nobility and even professed an acquaintance with King Richard II. His potential to be a fictional ‘trader of secrets’ in a city of shadows, fear and filth was compelling, and one seized upon with imagination, relish and consummate mastery by Bruce Holsinger, an award-winning scholar of the Middle Ages. Last year’s stunning debut, A Burnable Book, introduced us to Gower, part-time poet and full-time dealer in the clandestine, operating in a kingdom ruled by a headstrong teenage king and haunted by the double threat of a French invasion and growing unrest amongst the barons. That Gower was really losing his sight by this time – famously describing himself as ‘senex et cecus’ (old and blind) – only adds pathos to these exhilarating, intelligent thrillers which brim with atmosphere, authenticity, danger, and mystery. For a man who lives metaphorically at least by sifting dirt, this story has a fitting opening. Sixteen bodies are found in a London midden. No one knows the dead men, the way they were killed or who could be responsible – and the authorities, both the City and the Crown, seem reluctant to pursue the matter. At the same time, however, they seem desperate to recapture a man and woman who have escaped from jail in Kent, where Gower’s friend Chaucer is a magistrate. Only one thing is clear. Whoever threw the bodies into the sewer knew they would be found – and was powerful enough not to care. Soon we meet Stephen Marsh, the city’s most creative metalworker, who is recruited by the king’s armorer to come to the Tower and develop ever more lethal “handgonnes,” as the emerging weapons were called; they’re desperately needed to defend against the feared invasion. It becomes clear that handguns were used to kill the men, but the identity of the victims and their killers remains a mystery, despite Gower’s determined sleuthing. Hampered by his ‘creeping blindness’ and challenged by deception and treachery on all sides, Gower battles to unearth the truth in an inquiry that takes him from the city’s labyrinthine slums to the port of Calais and on to the forests of Kent. As Gower strives to discover the source of the new guns and the identity of those who wielded them, he must risk everything to reveal the truth and prevent a more devastating massacre on London’s crowded streets. London itself plays almost as much a part as do the characters. Real people like Chaucer, London Mayor Nicholas Brembre and various members of the aristocracy mix with fictional ones, to fill half a dozen different plots. Holsinger recreates the sights, sounds, and even the smells and combines them with a complex story of multiple murders, intrigue, pilgrimage, the law of sanctuary, religious hermits – and an amazingly accurate technical description of the development of a new weapon which was to change the face of war. This is history and mystery in perfect unison, a gripping whodunit set amidst the grinding, grimy reality of everyday life in medieval London and a charismatic, thinking man’s detective driving all the action. Historical fiction at its best.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I won this as a Goodreads Firstreads prize. This is the second book in this series and as I had not read the first one, I wondered if I would be able to get into the characters and their world if I hadn't been around when it was set up in the first book. I shouldn't have worried though! The cover has a quote from the Spectator 'Comparisons with C.J.Sansom are inevitable and justified' and to be honest, this kind of sums up my experience of this book. I hate to compare one author's work to another, I won this as a Goodreads Firstreads prize. This is the second book in this series and as I had not read the first one, I wondered if I would be able to get into the characters and their world if I hadn't been around when it was set up in the first book. I shouldn't have worried though! The cover has a quote from the Spectator 'Comparisons with C.J.Sansom are inevitable and justified' and to be honest, this kind of sums up my experience of this book. I hate to compare one author's work to another, but as a fan of C.J.Sansom, it is hard not to when the story initially seems like a Matthew Shardlake mystery. The Invention of Fire is set in London in the 1300's and features John Gower, an amateur sleuth/spy for hire/private investigator/poet, who has been set the task of uncovering what has happened to a group of bodies pulled up from the sewer and killed in a completely new way. Using his connections, coins, bribery and blackmail John Gower discovers the new weapons called 'Handgonnes' and the deadly circle of men surrounding their creation. Getting tangled up with Dukes, King's men, Mayors and many other important people, Gower is both fascinated and horrified by this new creation. So as I said, it is hard not to initially compare Bruce Holsinger's work with that of C.J.Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series, both are set in London hundreds of years ago, both feature a man trying to solve a mysterious murder whilst trying to keep under the radar of the king and other high born people. But I found that this was where the similarities end. Holsinger's London is grittier, just at the start of it's boom, you get scenes set in the countryside just outside London's walls which show that London has not quite expanded into the city that C.J.Sansom writes about. John Gower is also a grittier character, he has no moral problems about trading secrets at the right time for the right price and using information to his advantage and monetary gain. The style of writing is very different to the Shardlake series, where we uncover the mysteries as Matthew Shardlake finds them. Holsinger writes chapters that mainly focus on John Gower, but includes chapters solely focused on others involved in the crimes and showing their involvement in the story. Overall, I enjoyed this book, I love historical fiction, and The Invention of Fire brings London perfectly to life. I also enjoyed the idea that this was the first crime using a hand gun as a weapon. I had never considered that before their invention, warfare was generally carried out with a bit of show, needing many men to work cannons or rifles. The handgonne was the first weapon, as the story points out, that a single man or even woman(!) could use to kill from a distance. It is interesting to think, how the world would be now, if such an invention had never been created. The only down side I found in the book was that because we get an insight into the perpetrators of the crimes, there is no feeling of needing to urgently read the book to find out what happens, and I found it took me a little longer to read than I would have expected from a mystery. However, there are twists to the story that are revealed at the end and which were a welcomed surprise.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    This is the second book featuring John Gower, a poet and information broker who was also a friend of Chaucer. I didn't love this book quite as much as I loved A Burnable Book, but that one was sort of a tough act to follow. The two books follow a similar pattern. There are several intertwined subplots and a lot of deception with the action culminating at an official gathering. For those who read the first book, Eleanor/Edgar makes a brief, uneventful appearance in the new book. Chaucer is also s This is the second book featuring John Gower, a poet and information broker who was also a friend of Chaucer. I didn't love this book quite as much as I loved A Burnable Book, but that one was sort of a tough act to follow. The two books follow a similar pattern. There are several intertwined subplots and a lot of deception with the action culminating at an official gathering. For those who read the first book, Eleanor/Edgar makes a brief, uneventful appearance in the new book. Chaucer is also still around but not as central to the story. The three main subplots in this book involve the early development of the handgun, a multiple murder with the bodies discovered dumped in a ditch and, finally, the flight of two escaped prisoners. This last subplot felt totally unnecessary and was not fleshed out well. The linkage to the other two subplots seemed forced. In general, while the book was well researched and written, I did not find the characters as interesting, or the story as intricate, as in A Burnable Book. However, I did enjoy this book and I hope the author continues to write books set in this period. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sherri

    Really, really good. Well written, a credible mystery with twists, surprises, intertwined stories and a vast array of characters from all walks of life. Similar to the Brother Cadfael mysteries, with medieval settings and good writing, but set primarily in London and urban settings. Also Gower is not the same kind of hero the honest monk is, to say the least. The draw here is Chaucer, one of the major characters in A Burnable Book, the first John Gower book and he is as witty, clever and shady h Really, really good. Well written, a credible mystery with twists, surprises, intertwined stories and a vast array of characters from all walks of life. Similar to the Brother Cadfael mysteries, with medieval settings and good writing, but set primarily in London and urban settings. Also Gower is not the same kind of hero the honest monk is, to say the least. The draw here is Chaucer, one of the major characters in A Burnable Book, the first John Gower book and he is as witty, clever and shady here as well. The city of London and Southwark could be counted as characters as well. There is a lot of wonderful, earthy, gross and fascinating detail, including descriptions of public privvies, statecraft and childbirth. It helps to read Burnable Book first but not necessary. This book's title comes from a description of the first primitive handgonnes made in the 14th century. Even in its infancy the power and terror that guns,small enough for a single person to operate, possess reveals itself. The handgonne is the ultimate weapon of the weak, says one character.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    4.5 stars. Another great historical mystery by Bruce Holsinger. As with the first John Gower novel, the period details were wonderful, the pacing was excellent, the various plot strands were woven together well, and there were several strong, realistic female characters holding their own in a world often dominated by men. Gower is a sympathetic protagonist, perhaps all the more so because of his flaws. What impressed me most, though, about the novel (which should be the case in every good histor 4.5 stars. Another great historical mystery by Bruce Holsinger. As with the first John Gower novel, the period details were wonderful, the pacing was excellent, the various plot strands were woven together well, and there were several strong, realistic female characters holding their own in a world often dominated by men. Gower is a sympathetic protagonist, perhaps all the more so because of his flaws. What impressed me most, though, about the novel (which should be the case in every good historical novel) is how characters and situations very much of their time period resonate with issues in our modern world. Although the handgonnes of 1386 - new & dangerous in their time - are now antique, their inclusion in this story lead me, as a reader & student of history, to think about how new technology is always being used to make war more efficient, though never obsolete. In that way, The Invention of Fire transcends the average historical mystery.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brandt

    I really wanted to like this book more than I did, but The Invention of Fire suffers from the same flaw that ruined A Burnable Book for me. Holsinger is an expert on the time period (late 14th century) and his book is well plotted and researched--but he switches perspectives, and that is a writing sin that is UNFORGIVABLE. When Sam Spade narrates The Maltese Falcon the mystery unfolds as Spade discovers it. However, if Holsinger followed that formula here, The Invention of Fire would be an unrea I really wanted to like this book more than I did, but The Invention of Fire suffers from the same flaw that ruined A Burnable Book for me. Holsinger is an expert on the time period (late 14th century) and his book is well plotted and researched--but he switches perspectives, and that is a writing sin that is UNFORGIVABLE. When Sam Spade narrates The Maltese Falcon the mystery unfolds as Spade discovers it. However, if Holsinger followed that formula here, The Invention of Fire would be an unreadable mess. What he should do is not write Gower's passages in first person perspective, but I have a feeling that Holsinger is too enamored with Gower to do so, and thus the book suffers, which is a shame, because again, he's put together a pretty decent mystery.

  19. 5 out of 5

    PEGGY

    First business, I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. Now what matters .... I enjoyed this book. I did not read the first one but I don't believe that will reduce the impact and enjoyment of this book. Most of the characters I could get into but I felt there should have been something more regarding John's son and hopefully he will show up in future novels. I also felt that there could have been more closure on Margery and Robert, after all most of the story involving them w First business, I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. Now what matters .... I enjoyed this book. I did not read the first one but I don't believe that will reduce the impact and enjoyment of this book. Most of the characters I could get into but I felt there should have been something more regarding John's son and hopefully he will show up in future novels. I also felt that there could have been more closure on Margery and Robert, after all most of the story involving them was told from there perspective and there was no way that John could know some of their details so unless they show up in future novels we can only speculate as to their fates.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I really enjoyed listening to this sequel to A Burnable Book. Simon Vance's voice brought 14th century London to life. John Gower is back with a new mystery to solve but the real entertainment for me was in the details of the time - - the first use of eye glasses for failing sight, the way the legal system functioned and punishments were set, the introduction of hand guns as a weapon for battle. Holsinger's books are well researched and convey so much information about midieval times while still I really enjoyed listening to this sequel to A Burnable Book. Simon Vance's voice brought 14th century London to life. John Gower is back with a new mystery to solve but the real entertainment for me was in the details of the time - - the first use of eye glasses for failing sight, the way the legal system functioned and punishments were set, the introduction of hand guns as a weapon for battle. Holsinger's books are well researched and convey so much information about midieval times while still being an entertaining read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Miriam Shadis

    This second novel in the Gower series I loved (much more than the first)! And the primary reason was the imagining of the earliest days of a society learning about guns... I had never thought much about the experimentation, and *practice* that had to take place in arming our world with "handgonnes." The story was good, too -- I loved the flawed characters and again, the depiction of medieval London. A very smart, thoughtful, and yet fun read. This second novel in the Gower series I loved (much more than the first)! And the primary reason was the imagining of the earliest days of a society learning about guns... I had never thought much about the experimentation, and *practice* that had to take place in arming our world with "handgonnes." The story was good, too -- I loved the flawed characters and again, the depiction of medieval London. A very smart, thoughtful, and yet fun read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Findley

    Holsinger really brought the world of the 14th century to life in this novel. Gower is a man of his times, a tradesman in secrets rather than metal or cloth. His character is one that would be able to navigate through a world of nobles and tyrants and come out alive, but with new enemies after every adventure. This is the first novel of his I have read, but it certainly won't be the last. Holsinger really brought the world of the 14th century to life in this novel. Gower is a man of his times, a tradesman in secrets rather than metal or cloth. His character is one that would be able to navigate through a world of nobles and tyrants and come out alive, but with new enemies after every adventure. This is the first novel of his I have read, but it certainly won't be the last.

  23. 5 out of 5

    nikkia neil

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I think I like historical mystery better than romance right now. John Gower is not a likeable guy in his time period but I gotta say I like him more with each book. The middle ages is a awesome time period to read about and Bruce Holsinger knows how to make us keep reading.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    For not being a fan of historical fiction, beyond post-war Agatha Christie, this story really pulled me in. It was beautifully written and felt very authentic. Above all, it was an excellent mystery. A definite recommend.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laszlo

    Good Era to spin a tale! Exelent work !

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharron

    I received this book in the goodreads giveaway.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    INTERESTING HISTORICAL TALE. TELLS OF THE FIRST GUNS USED, THE GOOD AND BAD. A MYSTERY THAT HOLDS YOUR INTEREST UNTIL THE END. SIXTEEN CORPSES DUMPED, WHY AND HOW. DECEPTION AT EVERY TURN.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I am giving this a 4.5 The ending seemed rushed to me and the epilogue rang a bit contrived. Otherwise it was a well done story, with twists and turns and intrigue.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    A fascinating book, set in the late 1500's, about the invention of handguns. Be sure to read his first book, A Burnable Book, first, however. A fascinating book, set in the late 1500's, about the invention of handguns. Be sure to read his first book, A Burnable Book, first, however.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Entertaining medieval mystery and political intrigue.

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