Light and Fire: A Review of Cherie Priest’s Brimstone

Brimstone (2017)
Written by: Cherie Priest
Genre: Dark Historical Fantasy
Pages: 331 (Kindle)
Publisher: Ace

Why I Chose It: Given that I read at a snail’s pace of late, I have to get choosy about who I read. Cherie Priest has been one of my favorite authors since I discovered her debut, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, on Live Journal in 2006 and also discovered she lived in Chattanooga, which for me is easily a day trip and back. Not that I’ve ever met Priest in person: it’s just that I literally turn into a giddy fangirl when I discover a science fiction/fantasy/horror author lives in Tennessee, because it seems like they always live ELSEWHERE. At any rate, I read and adored Four and Twenty Blackbirds (I’ve even read it twice, and I’m rarely a re-reader!), and I’ve been following Priest’s career ever since. Picking up her latest was a no-brainer for me.

The premise:

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomás Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy—for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomás dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake….

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife’s spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomás and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself….

Very minor spoilers below!

Discussion: Priest has a knack for pulling me into her historical novels and getting me very comfortable with the fantasy and horror she weaves there. In Brimstone, we get Florida in the 1920s, introduced to us at first from the viewpoint of Alice Dartle, a young woman who’s learning how to develop and harness her clairvoyant gifts. Alice is quite the plucky heroine: she’s got a distinct narrative voice, and her character feels right for her age: a young woman who feels like she’s an adult and is equally both confident and insecure in equal measures, depending on who she’s talking to. If I had one criticism of Alice, it’s that at times her narrative voice felt a tick too Southern to me. Her love of bourbon, specifically her love of Maker’s Mark, made me feel like her character really should’ve hailed from Kentucky rather than Norfolk, though depending on who you talk to, Virginia is plenty Southern too. Yet her family history hails from Salem, and because her distant relatives had been hunted and burned at the Salem Witch Trials, I think that stuck with me and created a kind of disconnect between what I kept expecting (someone more proper, more Yankee) and what I got (who really is a delight).

Contrast that with Tomás Cordero who, thanks to the Great War (World War I, for those of you unsure), read to me as much older than his early thirties, if that. But he read to me like such a feeble old man, and acted like one too. Perhaps being a widower reinforced the image of being elderly, but again, there was a certain disconnect in what this character actually was and how I kept picturing him. Still, Tomás was a fascinating and sympathetic character, and you couldn’t help but want a win for him, whatever form that win took. Yet much like an elderly gentleman, he was quite stubborn, even in times he shouldn’t be, because he was so determined to believe in a certain truth that the reader knew was false (thanks to Alice’s point of view). You sympathized and empathized with him, and yet, you also wanted to wring his neck.

Yet the push and pull of the narrative, which alternates between both Alice and Tomás, provides an interesting tension and a very lovely payoff by the end of the story. You have an antagonist that’s present for nearly the entire story, and for my part, I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening and why. Yes, I had a theory or two, and while by the end I still had a few questions (given that fire was so prominent in this book, I still wondered how a few were started), I rather enjoyed how everything came together. The antagonist was certainly formidable, though I wish a bit more time had been allowed for his defeat. Once Alice and Tomás’ narratives inevitably came together, things happen at a breakneck pace, and I wish there’d been a bit of breathing room. The book is still a page turner even before things reach that speed, and I loved the ultimate solution, as well as the overall ending of the book, which left me grinning like a fool.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one more character: Felipe the chihuahua. Felipe has a very important supporting role about halfway through the book, and I worried for that little dog more than I worried for the main two characters! I also, for some stupid reason considering I’ve wanted one since seeing Oliver & Company in second grade, kept forgetting the Felipe was, indeed, a chihuahua.

So maybe my disconnect with picturing characters as something other than what they actually were may have more to do with me and less to do with Priest’s writing.

In Conclusion: Overall, I really enjoyed this stand-alone, dark historical fantasy novel from Cherie Priest, and I was rather sorry to put the book down when it was over. I would happily see other books set in Cassadaga, Florida, as the cast of characters were all delightful, and I really enjoyed the variety of women Alice interacted with. Imogene Cook is one such character I’d love to see as a main character, because she was so off-putting to our point-of-view characters; getting a story from her perspective would be a delight! This dark historical fantasy did not freak me out, but your mileage may vary depending on how terrified you are of fire as a rule, because Priest does not shy away from her descriptions, and there are consequences to the characters’ actions in the book. Yet for a dark fantasy, the ending is strangely moving and uplifting, dare I say happy? Not a spoiler, I promise, and if you’re a fan of Priest, you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t yet had a chance to read her work, this stand-alone is a great place to start.


  • sharonpatry June 22, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Oooooh, looks good!!!!

    • Shara White June 22, 2017 at 9:45 am

      I think I’ve recommended Cherie Priest to you before. If you haven’t tried her work yet, this would be a great place to start, though I’m still very, very partial to her debut, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. But that said, there’s some others I can recommend, depending on what you’re looking for. If you want something Lovecraftian, you should check out Maplecroft! It’s definitely historical horror.

  • Kelly McCarty June 24, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    I recently read her book Boneshaker because I had to read a steam punk book for a reading challenge. I thought I would hate that category but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Is Four and Twenty Blackbirds her best book?

    • Shara White June 24, 2017 at 7:49 pm

      It’s her debut, it takes place in Chattanooga, therefore it has a very special place in my heart. If you enjoyed Boneshaker, I highly recommend Dreadnought, the next book in the series: I liked it more than Boneshaker. It’s not a direct sequel, but it takes place in the same world.

  • giulia December 10, 2017 at 8:18 am

    can you tell me who is the illustrator of the cover painting? (it should be written in the back of the book or in the first page or something like that)

    • Shara White December 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

      According to the copyright page in my Kindle edition, the cover art is by Rovina Cai. Isn’t it awesome?


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