I’ve heard only good things about Nadine Brandes‘s writing, so I bought a copy of Fawkes when I found it on sale. This isn’t my usual genre–I don’t typically read historical fantasy. Yet, something about the familiarity of the story of Guy Fawkes appealed to me.
I call it historical fantasy because this book includes strong factual historic information as well as magic and elements that are purely fantasy-based. This is not your run of the mill historical fiction.
As always, the disclaimer. This isn’t a sponsored post, and I did not receive a complimentary review copy.
This is a spoiler-free review.
Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.
Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.
But what if death finds him first?
Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.
The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.
The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.
No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.
You already know this part. 🙂 The Gunpowder plot aimed to remove the king so they could install his young daughter on the throne and control her.
BUT. The story is changed with magic.
The people of this Old England come equipped with magic. Colour magic.
Colour magic isn’t a new concept, it’s something we’ve all seen a hundred times before. Many stories use a colour system to rank their magicians (or non-magicians, I use colour to code professions in my Fall of the Mantle series) and it’s a well-known trope.
Having said that, I’ve never read anything like Nadine Brandes’s take on colour magic before. In this world, people bond with colours, and can then use that specific colour to do magic. Greys, for example, can coerce all things grey to do their bidding, while Browns can only control brown, and so on.
Want to trap someone with vines? You’d better hope you’re a Green. Want to set someone on fire? Red’s the colour for you. Want to dump a wave on someone’s head? You’ve got it, blue.
People who can control only one colour are called Keepers, but they’re not the only magic users in this book.
The other side of the coin belongs to Igniters–a group of mages who bond with White Light and can speak to all colours, just like white light is broken into a rainbow when shone through a prism.
And, of course, these two groups are a metaphor for the two historic warring groups–Catholics and Protestants.
Because things aren’t interesting enough, the author threw in a plague that turns its victims into stone. You all know how I feel about plague storylines. 🙂
I must mention here that this is a book based on actual historic events, and therefore includes some elements of racism. Without spoiling too much, expect to find one or two instances of derogatory terms toward people of colour, and there is also an instance of blackface. Still, I think the author navigated these difficult and horrible prejudices with grace, and clearly states her abhorrence of slavery and the way people of colour were treated in this time.
This idea of coercing colours to do one’s magical bidding really drew me to this story. It’s a fresh take on an old trope, and really made the world interesting.
I think what I love most about this idea is how limiting it is. If the character is out at night, for example, all the colours are muted and dark, which makes them more difficult to use. Also, the colour black is a pretty strong one, but doesn’t have too many uses during the day. At night though, when there are shadows aplenty, black is almost invincible.
The magic users of this world wear masks in the colour they’re bonded with. The same-gender parent of a child must create a mask for their child, based on the colour the child can most convincingly control.
To add to the tension, Keepers and Igniters are killing each other in the streets. If they wear a colour mask but can command colours other than those on their mask, the Keepers will kill them. Igniters find Keepers by cutting people and checking their blood. If the blood is red, the person is a Keeper, while White Light colours the blood white.
Even if this story was horrible–which it isn’t–I still would have enjoyed reading it only because of this magic system.
Our protagonist and narrator is Thomas Fawkes, the son of the legendary Guy Fawkes, war-veteran and hero. Only Guy doesn’t have any contact with his son, and Thomas is desperate to find his father and convince him to make a mask for Thomas.
You see, Thomas must bond with the colour grey. He’s been infected with the stone plague, which begins to spread after a long period of dormancy when the book starts. If he can just bond with grey, he might find a way to stop the spread of his plague.
Thomas’s plight was pretty compelling, and I found him a likeable and believable character.
I really loved Emma. She’s such a fierce and diverse character, and brings spirit to this book.
I found Nadine Brandes’s writing style to be smooth and easy to follow. Despite knowing what would happen in the end, I still cried. 🙂 The way the story is told draws you in and keeps you interested till the very last word.
For me, this was a super enjoyable 4/5 star read.