Fire Colour One

Fire Colour OneI know I posted my review schedule last week but after the last novel I reviewed sapped my stamina, I’ve decided I need to widen the gaps between the forthcoming paranormal romance novels. In light of this, I’ve accepted a few ARCs from Netgalley. This is the first one.

Fire Colour One was written by Guardian Prize winning author Jenny Valentine and is due for release on 2nd July. It is a contemporary fiction novel about a teenage girl who is forced to reconnect with a father that she has never met. As I’m reviewing this story based on an advanced reader copy, please bear in mind that there may be some differences between my copy and the published work.

Iris has never had the best of upbringings. After her father abandoned her, she was raised by Hannah, her superficial mother, and Lowell, an out-of-work actor with dreams of hitting the big time. Both of her guardians cared far more about their social standing than they ever did for being parents and so Iris spent most of her time alone, starting fires and hanging out with her best friend Thurston.

Everything suddenly changes for her when her mother runs out of money. She is suddenly whisked from her life, forcing her to leave Thurston without time to say good bye. Their destination is England, where Hannah hopes to use Iris to extort money from Ernest, her biological father. When Hannah discovers that Ernest is dying of cancer, she realises that this is her chance. Ernest is a fabulously wealthy art dealer and she knows that she can use Iris to claim his fortune.

Although she has no desire to meet Ernest, Iris is forced to stay at his side. As they talk, she begins to discover that her mother has never been entirely honest with her. She also learns that Ernest has many secrets that not even Hannah knows. Secrets that will only be fully revealed after his death…

Fire Colour One is one of those stories that I find most difficult to review. From a literary perspective, I thought that it was beautiful. It was almost like reading poetry, filled with gorgeous turns of phrase and thought provoking imagery. By way of an illustration I’ll share with you my favourite passage, on the subject of what Iris and Thurston wish to be after they die:

“We can be anything,” Thurston said. “If the mass of the Universe never changes, we have to be some part of it when we die.”

“Not stars,” I said. “Let’s not be stars. Let’s be paper and subway trains and honey.”

There’s just something kind of mundanely uplifting about Valentine’s turns of phrase, something that just makes you stop and think and then want to read more. I utterly devoured this book – I just couldn’t stop reading it once I’d started. The closest young adult novel to this book that I can think of is The Universe versus Alex Woods as both of the novels shared the same kind of written style, the kind Vonnegut-esque broken narrative that seems disjointed at first but all draws together at its climax.

The novel can be a little sad in places, yet it’s always quite clear that Ernest must die as the story begins with his funeral. Despite this tragic subject matter, the tale is actually incredibly uplifting. It’s a story about truth and redemption as encapsulated in the image of two people who lose each other so soon after finding each other. At the start of the novel, Iris doesn’t care about her father. Ernest is nothing more than a stranger to her. As terrible as Hannah is (and boy is she terrible), she at least didn’t abandon Iris. Yet, as Iris spends time with her father and listens to his stories, she begins to understand that her mother has been far from honest with her. As the novel progresses, Iris begins to see that her father was not the villain she believed him to be and realises that she has missed out on so much time that she could have spent with him.

The climax of the story is also magnificent, possessing one of the best twist endings that I have ever read. I won’t spoil it to you because it needs to be experienced but it was just perfect for me. While I did suss out a small part of it, most of the final few chapters took me utterly by surprise in the best possible way. On a second read through, it’s obvious that there were hints towards the ending throughout the novel but they were so subtle that I entirely overlooked them. For me, the ability to surprise the reader is the mark of a great author. It just utterly blew me away.

So, why do I say that this book is difficult to review? Well, it’s mainly because the story was lacking something on a very basic level. As I already said, the novel has a broken narrative. Events don’t occur in sequence as it flits backwards and forward between Iris’s first ever meeting with Thurston and the day of Ernest’s funeral. While this does allow for our understanding of Iris’s actions to gradually develop over the course of the novel, it does so at the expense of her relationship with Ernest.

For me, this was a rather big stumbling point. Iris and Ernest’s relationship is the crux of the novel, yet the story keeps only showing brief snapshots of this before flitting away to another event. This could well be my personal opinion but for me this just didn’t work. The story was a character study and really needed for me to feel the bond between Iris and Ernest. While they did occasionally have nice exchanges, I never got the sense of their relationship growing. Iris would resent him one moment and then the story would flash forward and she’d suddenly seem to care about him. While I did feel sad when Ernest died, it was more a generalised sadness. The story would had been more effective for me if I’d been able to feel Iris’s pain.

Yet the characterisation on a whole was still very vivid. Iris is a realistic protagonist. Her deep flaws come to the surface through her obsession with starting fires but she is still completely relatable. Based around her terrible upbringing, it seems utterly understandable that she’d find some way to lash out. She grows deeper and deeper as the story progresses. While Hannah has her pegged as a troubled teen, this just shows how little her mother understands her. Iris is deep and artistic and possessed with a strong appreciation for beauty. She presents a thoroughly sympathetic and likable narrative voice.

The supporting cast is also greatly memorable. I love Thurston for his creative anarchy – his bold social statements that are equally as beautiful as Ernest’s art collection. Ernest was also a fantastic character but I appreciate him more in hindsight. The twist of the story made me completely reassess my feelings towards him as he’s a far more complex character than I initially had him pegged for.

The only characters that I wasn’t so sure about were Hannah and Lowell. They were both very fun to hate due to how phony they were. It wasn’t that they were abusive parents, they were just utterly negligent. They cared about being beautiful and rich and famous. Iris didn’t conform to their image of perfection therefore they viewed her as a failure. While Hannah and Lowell were despicable, they were a little too cartoonish for me. They had no redeemable features whatsoever. They were like Roald Dahl villains, existing purely for the satisfaction of their comeuppance.

So, to conclude, Fire Colour One is a very strange novel that I think will divide audiences. It’s beautifully written, quotable and has a colourful cast but it does contain a few deep flaws in term of story structure. Yet the novel was incredibly memorable on the whole and is definitely something that I’d recommend to fans of contemporary character studies.

Fire Colour One is due for release on 2nd July 2015 and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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