by Nadine Brandes
Who will he betray? His father? His king?
Wow! Loved, loved, loved this mesmerizing reimagining of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Have you ever loved a book so much, you could wait to talk to your friends about it? Fawkes is the type of book that makes me want to grab coffee with friends to discuss every aspect of how this book manages to pull in so many ideas and ideals, so much of what is true in the world, and how it makes us look differently at so many things. Not to mention, it’s just an awesome story in its own right. (I was so fired up about Fawkes that I gifted it to my BFF and bought my own copy to share it with my daughter, so we could all discuss it.)
All the intricacies of the real life Gunpowder Plot weave their way through Fawkes, creating a brilliant tapestry threaded with danger, ambition, and magic. The magic system is a cornerstone of the story, while Thomas Fawkes’ relationship with his father is another. The story opens as Thomas, a boy of 16, is abandoned yet again by his father, whom he has not seen in 13 years. His father is absent at Thomas’s coming-of-age ceremony, in which he was to have presented his son with a mask he created especially for his son’s emergence into adulthood. It is a life-altering lapse that causes Thomas to be expelled from his school, unable to claim his use of magic or finish his education and pursue a profession. Worse than that, it leaves Thomas stranded with no recourse for healing the plague that has turned his left eye to stone.
Thomas journeys to London to confront his father and finds himself embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot. It is a journey that takes him from his start as a young, self-centered, frightened, and somewhat cowardly boy to a conflicted conspirator questioning the beliefs and attitudes foisted upon him by others. He is a boy starting to believe there is more to magic and murder than he’s been told, a boy who begins to question the loyalty that he has to men who may have very little loyalty to him or the truth.
Fawkes investigates the motives and truths behind the Gunpowder Plot, how it affected our world and what drove it. It is plot fraught with men willing to murder entire groups to bring about a change in their government, while some of the men they intend to murder had been too willing to murder those that they themselves disagreed with. As one character says, “Did murder ever free anyone?” The more you look below the surface of Fawkes, the deeper it gets, touching on racism, bravery, truth, loyalty, love, faith, and fanaticism.
As the story progresses, Thomas questions the attitudes that have shaped his thinking: “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.”
From Thomas’s struggles to understand the source of magic, he learns to discover and fight for truth. “Shouldn’t I fight for what I believe in?” “It’s not as simple as that. Fighting for what you believe in is too subjective.” … “We need to fight for truth. Your beliefs can be misguided.” “Do you really think there’s some ultimate truth out there?” “Of course there is! It is the foundation of morals and justice. A foundation of truth represents what life was intended to be.”
Thomas Fawkes grows along his journey, moving away from blindly following anyone he thinks has a truth and discovering the secret of magic for himself. “Before I received my mask, I didn’t know who I was—my skill, my purpose, my identity. I thought I was supposed to know. But instead, I learned how to search—how to track down the origins of skill, purpose, and identity. How to get to the source.”
As he allows truth to guide him, Thomas must leave behind those who would lead him astray. “Catesby asked us to sacrifice not only our lives for Keeper freedom but our own consciences and morals.” As Thomas discovers, truth doesn’t bend itself to anyone’s agenda. “Both Igniters and Keepers and people in between fight for their own agendas . . . instead of being willing to discuss and seek what’s right.” And the source magic might have a mind of its own. “A lot of people do things ‘for’ me, but without my guidance. I have never asked for murder. I have never asked for force or blind rage. I’ve only ever asked for people to respond to my voice.”
It’s an enlightening coming-of-age journey that’s well worth the read. Don’t forget to read an important addition to the story, the Author’s Note: What’s True and What’s Not. And if you’re really into the story like me, read up on the Gunpowder Plot; the more you read, the more you realize how much meticulous historical detail Nadine Brandes wove into Fawkes.
Highly recommended for those who love fantasy, history, allegories, or simply wonderful storytelling. If you love Brandon Sanderson, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold, Diana Wynne Jones, or any of the other greats who weave engaging multi-layered stories around wisdom and truths about the human condition, you’ll love Fawkes.
I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) through NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
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.