Cover Image: The Staircase of Fire

The Staircase of Fire

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Member Reviews

To be fair, the first: this is the third installment of a series, and I have not read the previous two.
To be fair, the second: this is more of a YA or even middle grade novel, so maybe some of my critique unfairly stems from me being an adult reader.

This novel did not really knock my socks of. It is a classical boy adventure novel, set in the US South of the 1920s. In many ways, it reminded me of Tom Sawyer. And while the idea sounded interesting and tackling deeper issues, it disappointed. The racial incident advertised in the blurb was soon forgotten about, and other story lines pressed into the foreground. Not interwoven, though, just one after the other, and way too many overall. The dialogue was flat and lacked emotion, sounding like the first stumbling steps of a child actor. Also, there was weird pacing: while exciting stuff was skipped over in a sentence, mundane scenes were played out move by move. There was some nice elements that could have been expanded upon, in my modest opinion, but in the end, I did not enjoy it.

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When Ben Woodard asked me if I wanted to review The Staircase of Fire, I said yes because I enjoyed his first book in this series, A Stairway to Danger. It's been some time, so I don't really remember what happened in A Stairway to Danger, but The Staircase of Fire read well as a standalone novel.

The Staircase of Fire starts when Rose, an African American lady, insists on her right to vote. In the extremely racist town of Shakertown, this is something that cannot be stood for and Rose and her son, James, decide to leave. But on their way out, James kills one of the KKK assaulting his mother and gets murdered in return. All this is witnessed by Tom, who's still dealing with the guilt from his sisters' death. Scared to say a word, Tom resolves to find the Shake gold and leave this town for good.

While the start of the novel feels like a mystery, this is really more of a bildungsroman. Yes, Tom does hunt down clues to find the gold but this story is really about Tom coming to grips with his past and with the society he lives in. It's about him growing up and deciding what kind of man he wants to be. The search for the gold is a small part of the book compared to Tom's journey.

Like I mentioned before, Tom grows a lot in this book and I really enjoyed reading his journey. It seems like almost every white character is racist in some way (which is historically accurate) and it was refreshing to see Tom learn to break out of the narrow-minded thinking that he had and which surrounds him.

Just a note of warning: apart from some violence, there is mention of sex and sexual assault in the book. It's nothing explicit, but if you're sensitive or if you want to give this to a younger kid to read, you might want to keep it in mind.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

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