Fighting the Flames: A Tale of the London Fire Brigade
Rating: 4 stars
By: R.M. Ballantyne
Ages: 13 and up (an attempted murder, the subject of fires, a death, etc.)
I've waited quite a while to review this book (I read it in May of this year). But during the months after having read it, I would periodically think of it and I'd just get happy inside (or tell my sister that she had to read it, of course). Fighting the Flames was really the most enjoyable book by Ballantyne that I've read to date.
Willie Wilders. Enough said. ;) He was my favorite character, by far. At first he seems like just a mischievous boy, but as the story progresses you see more of who he really is. Yes, he had fun confusing his uncle (granted, it would've been funny, considering the situation!), and then his uncle never got to find out the truth until a good bit of time later, but, aside from that...Willie's not too terribly mischievous. ;) I just loved how sweet he was! He was incredibly giving, even when he didn't have much to spare. I really liked that you see him as a young man (I'm not actually sure how old he was. I think he was a young teenager in the beginning - maybe fourteen or so?) and then the story skips ahead to when he's maybe twenty-one. It was cool, because the whole book had progressed during the seven years that you didn't read about, and everything was coming to a climax by that time.
I enjoyed the glimpses into the fire-fighters' lives and reading about their adventures. Plus, Willie's older brother Frank is part of the fire-fighting team you hear about, so everything weaves together in a really cool way.
Plus, Ballantyne managed to engrain his faith into the story as well. It's somewhat subtle, never thrown at the reader. I enjoy finding little moments of wisdom in his books!
And I just have to mention: It's inspiring to find that Ballantyne did his research the old-fashioned way: he went into the 'field', spending time with the fire-fighters and even going on runs with them. How cool, right!?
Anyways, back to the book.
As I mentioned a little earlier, everything weaves together - or, I should say, everyone. Ballantyne did something really neat with this novel: he connected every character through another character. All of the storylines overlap. Each character's story intertwines with someone else's. I've never read a book like that. Suffice to say, I liked it. A lot. He definitely made it work!
The book, as with all of Ballantyne's, can be somewhat long in descriptions, so it did take me a little while to get into it. And there is a somewhat intense scene that pops up nearer to the end that two characters' stories have been building up to. Someone also dies in one of the fires and there is a character who is often drunk (though, Ballantyne always discourages drinking in his books), but nothing is overly described (except for the scene mentioned above).
Overall, the story ends satisfactorily, and maybe even a little surprisingly! I liked most of the characters, I liked the story, and it was informative. I enjoyed Fighting the Flames, and it has officially become my favorite of the Ballantyne novels that I've read. Do I see a reread in the future? Probably.
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