Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

Series: – Rating: 4/5
Date of Publishing: July 10th 2018 Genre: fantasy, historical fiction, YA
Format: Kindle Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Number of pages: 448 Author’s website: http://nadinebrandes.com

Blurb

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 it. 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.

“And she… perhaps she wasn’t so different. But she made herself known to me. Vulnerable. And that made me different.”

Personal notes

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Before I plunge into writing up my review I need to make a confession. When I requested this book, I had absolutely no idea who Guy Fawkes was. But then, his name is not mentioned in the blurb so it totally escaped me what this book is really about. Not that it’s a bad thing, but after someone directly asked me if I knew who Guy was. I had no idea. So I looked him up. And that totally changed me look upon this book. I still couldn’t place the mask thing – I’ll get back to this – and that same friend pointed out the relation between V for Vendetta and the Anonymous mask (I know of the mask, never saw the film). This another revelation made me embarrassed because I failed in my research the first time – and I have a historian degree… go figure – and because of my total lack of pop-culture knowledge. Please forgive my ignorance.

Review

Fawkes is on one hand a coming of age story, where Thomas has to face the harsh world we call reality and find his own way, his own beliefs, his real identity despite the odds or what others want him to be. On the other hand this is the retelling of the Gunpowder Plot – which took place in the early 17th century and its goal was to blow up the Parliament with King James – spiced with some fantasy. Hence, if you know Guy Fawkes’ story, then you know how this book will end. If you don’t, then I don’t advise making research on it before reading Fawkes, unless you want to spoil the ending for yourself. Besides, you don’t need that kind of knowledge to understand what’s going on, since we see everything through Thomas’ eyes practically from the start. Besides once I learned about the real historical events that took place, I couldn’t think of Keepers and Igniters anything else but catholics and protestants. Which makes White Light a metaphor for God. Thus religion gives a whole another level to the depth of the book, even though it is never mentioned directly. But let’s go from the start.

Thomas attends St. Peter’s Color School and is about to receive his mask and color power – to bond with a color, he needs to get a mask from his dad. For Thomas it’s not just simply a rite of passage into adulthood, but also a life or death kind of situation. He has the Stone Plague (Keepers and Igniters blame each other for the disease which endangers England and takes more and more victim), which while it had been dormant for two years now, can spread anytime and kill him really slowly. He already lost his left eye to it, and his only hope is to bond with Grey so he could command the plague to recede. His hopes however are shattered, when Guy Fawkes, the famous warrior and well-known Keeper fails to show up thus condemning Thomas, who gets thrown out of school. The young men is not so intimidated however, and he sets out to London in search of his father and his rightful legacy – a mask. Upon the first night he arrives to the city – a bit too conveniently – he manages to find his father he never really knew and finds himself in the midst of a scheme later known as the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby, Wintour, Percy, Fawkes and a few later added plotter are faithful Keepers, who believe Igniters are the ones to blame for the plague, and that they are chased and executioned one by one. They believe Igniters are all power-hungry because of their involvement with the White Light. Keepers kept the White Light hidden for centuries fearing its power and its influence over people, while Igniters think everyone should get free access to White Light and master to command as many colors as they want. White Light, however has its own mind and is not entirely happy with how things are.

Thomas, wanting to earn his father’s approval, joins to the plot and tries to make himself useful. When he stumbles upon one of his old schoolmates, Emma, who is being attacked by two men also gets an opportunity to secure a job. He becomes caddy to Baron Monteagle, and escort of Emma. During their time together, Thomas slowly learns that Igniters and Keepers aren’t all that different, and that he and Emma has so much more in common than he thought. He also starts to question his beliefs, his motives, his comrade’s motives and morals.

“My culture had affected my thinking without my consent. How many other things had it shaped without my knowing it? It made me want to examine things – to seek the heart of matters. Of skin color, of Keepers, of Igniters, of White Light, of all my assumptions.
How many of us acted and spoke out and fought for beliefs that we held because our environment told us to? As much as I wanted to blame my England, I knew the blame sat with me. I hadn’t trained myself to discern. To examine. To seek the source.”

As his friendship with Emma strengthens, his personality matures and from rash young boy he becomes a sobered young man by the end of the book. His character has a nice arc and as the plot moves forward, as hardships are being thrown at him, he learns to overcome them all, no matter how dire the situation seems to be. I like how the relationship between Thomas and Emma builds – they slowly learn to trust, to accept, to compliment each other until they become a force to reckon with. And once again I find myself liking a female side character much more than the male protagonist – or any other male characters for that matter. Emma is intelligent, kind, has a strong willpower and a refuses to accept her fate or the place society would shun on her. If they knew her secret.

Fawkes has many layers and under the obvious surface of the plot there is a depth worth exploring. This book deals with questions of religion, society, acceptance, loss, what it means to give your life for your beliefs and that every coin has two sides. War and hate aren’t always the solution to solve the problem, and sometimes one person, one decision can change the course of events.

Despite all the depths and topics covered, it also has faults. The magic system is not explained much, and we never learn exactly why masks are needed to bond with a color. Okay, knowing the relation between Guy Fawkes and masks, this choice seems pretty obvious, but Brandes could have come up with some kind of explanation. She put a lot of thought into her characters and at least with Emma (and I don’t mean me liking her the most) she could surprise me, but the ending was pretty predictable. Especially if you know how that plot ended.

Fawkes blends real historical events from 17th century England with fictitious characters and fantasy elements. The world building is seamless, London almost leaps off the pages. Nadine Brandes did her homework right and thoroughly researched the era and the events. The result is an intriguing, page turning story where you can’t help but go through a wide range of emotions together with the characters. Mentally slapping Thomas on the head or hugging him close or cheer him on. And adoring Emma for her courage and glowing personality, wishing you could see the world through her eyes. Fawkes is the perfect choice for everyone no matter how old or young, who like their historical fiction magical and thoughtful, which is a bit heavier on the character building side.

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