The House Is on Fire
by Rachel Beanland
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Pub Date 04 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 30 Apr 2023
Richmond, Virginia 1811. It’s the height of the winter social season, the General Assembly is in session, and many of Virginia’s gentleman planters, along with their wives and children, have made the long and arduous journey to the capital in hopes of whiling away the darkest days of the year. At the city’s only theater, the Charleston-based Placide & Green Company puts on two plays a night to meet the demand of a populace that’s done looking for enlightenment at the front of a church.
On the night after Christmas, the theater is packed with more than six hundred holiday revelers. In the third-floor boxes, sits newly-widowed Sally Henry Campbell, who is glad for any opportunity to relive the happy times she shared with her husband. One floor away, in the colored gallery, Cecily Patterson doesn’t give a whit about the play but is grateful for a four-hour reprieve from a life that has recently gone from bad to worse. Backstage, young stagehand Jack Gibson hopes that, if he can impress the theater’s managers, he’ll be offered a permanent job with the company. And on the other side of town, blacksmith Gilbert Hunt dreams of one day being able to bring his wife to the theater, but he’ll have to buy her freedom first.
When the theater goes up in flames in the middle of the performance, Sally, Cecily, Jack, and Gilbert make a series of split-second decisions that will not only affect their own lives but those of countless others. And in the days following the fire, as news of the disaster spreads across the United States, the paths of these four people will become forever intertwined.
Based on the true story of Richmond’s theater fire, The House Is on Fire offers proof that sometimes, in the midst of great tragedy, we are offered our most precious—and fleeting—chances at redemption.
"A propulsive, pulse-pounding read." —Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything
"A stunning achievement."—Jeannette Walls, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Castle and the forthcoming Hang The Moon
“A marvel... everything I want from historical fiction."—Kevin Powers, author of National Book Award finalist The Yellow Birds
“Riveting... places the reader at the very heart of a devastating, true-life tragedy." —Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Place
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 136 members
This book is on FIRE!! A breathtaking, heart pounding, unputdownable, powerhouse of a historical fiction retelling the 1811 tragedy of the Richmond, Virginia theater fire that not only extinguished 72 lives, but extinguished a theater company from the town of Richmond.
The tale is meticulously researched and the fictional liberties taken were off of real people’s experiences through this dark tragedy.
Rachel Beanland provides you with a first class ticket to this terrifying tragedy, allowing you to be up close and personal in the lives of the people it affected. You visit the events from start to finish through the eyes of Sara, a young society widow, Jack, the teenage orphaned stage hand that’s working that night, Gilbert, a slave and uncle who runs toward the disaster to render aide, and his niece Cecily, and abused slave who decides the fire will change her fate in more ways than one.
This is a society that becomes more like a war within itself following this tragedy, and you will see how the choices we make or don’t make, the aide we render or don’t render, affects not just the people we run into, but the inner working of the town as a whole.
This is set in a time where certain voices were not heard or counted. Women. Slaves. Children. But Beanland lends a voice to them all, and allows you to be swept away in the madness, the courage and cowardice of the people, to the love, hate and even obsession of man, and the ability to either hold firmly to hope, or the ability to become hopeless.
These pages flew by and I connected with all the characters presented, good, bad, villainous, and even the wall flowers. This is a sweeping tale that will stay with you long after you close the book.
A definite 5/5 star read for me and one I highly recommend to anyone who loves historical fiction and loves to read a novel that invokes deep feelings in you.
Thank you so much to #NetGalley, the publishers and author for an ARC in exchange for my honest opinions. This is one that you should not miss.
My full review will be posted to all my social media sites and blog sites upon release day.
Though very different from her first book, Esther Adler Swims Forever, Rachel Beanland has proven herself to be an author of major proportions. In The House is on Fire, she has produced an edge-of-your-chair historical novel that reads like a gripping adventure story. You love and root for some characters while detesting others.
Beanland has done exhaustive research about this fire and people affected by it. She uses four of them to move the story forward. Cecily a young, abused slave girl may or may not have existed, but you will believe in her so wholeheartedly that you will root for her escape. Gilbert, a blacksmith slave and Cecily's uncle was a real person, as was Sally Henry Campbell, daughter of Patrick Henry. The fourth character is Jack, a teenage boy apprenticed to the acting troupe.
Beanland's description of the victims' harrowing attempts to escape the fire, and the shameful lack of humanity in most of the men (who walked over the bodies of women to escape will freeze your blood. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It adds Rachel Beanland as a worthy addition to our finest literary authors. I am grateful to Simon and Schuster for an early review copy of The House is on Fire.
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