Category Archives: Dunn, Claire

Review of 'Mortal Fire' by Claire Dunn

I finished reading Mortal Fire after 11pm last night, but, as the first chapter of  the second in The Secret of the

Kells Foll.  Christ Enthroned.

(c) Wikimedia

Journal series (Death Be Not Proud) appeared at the back of my Mortal Fire download, I had to read that too.  Result: a very late night.

Let’s mention the awards first.  Mortal Fire won Gold in Adult Romance ForeWordBook of the Year Awards in 2012.  Rope of Sand, the third in the Journal series, was a finalist in the Foreword Book of the Year Awards in 2014.  So it looks like I’ve got to download two more books and get reading.  I really can’t leave main character, Emma D’Eresby, where I’ve left her (at the end of chapter 1 of Book 2).

Mortal Fire is not historical fiction, but a novel about historians.  Emma D’Eresby, an academic historian based in Cambridge, takes up a post at a university in Maine, USA, so that she can pursue her obsessive interest in a journal written by an obscure seventeenth century Englishman, who emigrated across the pond.  Other than the journal, her specialism in history is torture, particularly how torture has been used, not to extract information, but to cure souls.  Although she wishes to spend her year in America studying, without distractions, men on the academic staff of this American university find her irresistible and her Russian friend, Elena, is also very keen to pair her off.   Despite her resolution, she falls for Dr Matthew Lynes, who, she quickly realises, is different, although, for the most of the novel (which is, of course, only the first in a series) the reader is invited to overlook how different.  He’s just old fashioned and courteous, isn’t he?  A good doctor.  If you were reading something I’d written, Dear Reader, that’s how it would be because all my work is based on solid, feet-on-the-ground reality, but, as I reached the end of Mortal Fire, I began to understand that this is not just romance (even though it has won awards for adult romance) but speculative, and I suspect that the story becomes more speculative in the second and third books.

The novel covered a whole spectrum of emotions, complex emotions as you would expect from characters who are academics,  even though Elena comes across as shallow, schoolgirlish and silly, but, having once lived alongside girl historians, eminently believable.  There is love, passionate and raw, and longing so intense that the characters cannot believe in it, also blind hate and the need to destroy, all the more potent for not being explicitly explained.

Mortal Fire is  – definitely – Christian fiction, a story about an ordinary woman living out her Christian faith in the everyday worldIt has expanded my understanding of what Christian fiction is and the topics and emotions it may encompass.  Whereas older Christian fiction (and much contemporary Christian fiction) sticks to a rigidly straitlaced path, Claire has shown that it is possible to include explicit sexual touching (although not full sexual intercourse) and graphic violence.   Christian fiction (a growing market, apparently) is changing and developing, whilst in no way diluting the Christian message, generating sub-genres such as Christian speculative.  Only today I came across the webzine, Mysterion, which carries the strapline A speculative fiction anthology—rediscovering the mysteries of the Christian faith.  We have moved a long way from the so-called religious fiction of Dan Brown and his imitators.

So, do read The Secret of the Journal series, which you buy this book at any of these places listed on Claire’s website.  We didn’t get to learn much about the Journal in Mortal Fire.  I suspect that comes later.