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The Invention of Fire

(John Gower #2)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,051 ratings  ·  168 reviews
The author of the acclaimed medieval mystery A Burnable Book once again brings fourteenth-century London alive in all its color and detail in this riveting thriller featuring medieval poet and fixer John Gower—a twisty tale rife with intrigue, danger mystery, and murder.

Though he is one of England’s most acclaimed intellectuals, John Gower is no stranger to London’s wretch
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published April 21st 2015 by William Morrow (first published January 1st 2015)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  1,051 ratings  ·  168 reviews

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Mar 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I picked this up in my library with no knowledge of the author and only as it was being put out on the shelf as I passed by, and a shiny new library book is always a pleasure to grab and take home.

This is a very well written and enjoyable fictional glimpse into medieval England and in particular London in 1386 during the reign of Richard II.

What I really enjoyed was the author's - who is an American professor of English language and literature - description of life, law and lawlessness during h
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, anglophile
Bruce Holsinger, please keep writing John Gower books. Simon Vance, please keep reading them to me.

This is the perfect combination of story and voice. The topic of this second volume of John Gower adventures is that despised new invention, *handgonnes*. Their use is off to a bad start, of course: a mass murder. 1300s England comes to life through the (failing) eyes of John Gower, his friend Geoffrey Chaucer, and various other characters from nobility to riffraff and everyone in between. I was pl
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Whew! Difficult read.

It's a 4.5 star but I rounded it up for the incredible amount of research and authenticity for the late 14th century in England that Bruce Holsinger develops within this book.

This is a John Gower, our sheriff and finder, his book #2. But it was completely a stand alone in its scope and its detail. I had not read #1 and yet found this book entrancing.

SO MANY WORDS, English words and usages that are archaic or at least not in common state of grammar. And the baseness of some o
Disclosure up front: I took a Coursera class led by Prof. Bruce Holsinger two years ago.

This is the second of Bruce Holsinger's books featuring poet John Gower as a detective. Like A Burnable Book, the first tale, this book is rich in historical detail and entertaining characters.

There are a couple of subplots that eventually come together. The first plot begins when 16 dead bodies are found in London's "Long Drop" public privy by the night-soil removers. The second involves Stephen Marsh, a ski
Karen Keane
Jan 15, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this for the Readers Group I run, and although I do normally really enjoy this type of historical fiction, I found this book a bit too long and at times confusing. I felt there were too many characters in the book and the chapters switched from one character to another, there were so many different people's stories been told that I felt that you didn't get to know any of the characters properly. On the plus points it was really well researched and wonderfully descriptive. ...more
Elspeth G. Perkin
A rewarding tale of returns and the dangers of playing with fire…

This savory historical series continues to claim my attention and to be a solid recommendation to other readers who may have been searching for a literary experience that quickly immerses them into embattled lanes of survival in 14th-century London and beyond the realm. That not only holds brilliantly noted facets of historical research that ties everything together by the final page but offers the chance to follow a shrewd narrato
Jun 30, 2015 rated it liked it
The Invention of Fire by Bruce Holsinger is a terrific mystery about the age of modern weaponry and it's introduction into the English culture. It is London, 1386, and mass murder has taken place within the city walls. Sixteen dead bodies have been found, bearing wounds like none that have been seen before.

"...Shield fragments, I would say,' said Baker. 'Carried there by the ball, and lodged in the skin around the point of penetration.' We both knew, in that moment, what he was about to tell us
Mar 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
It is the year 1386, and the bodies of 16 men have been found dumped in a public privy in the city of London, all of the corpses bearing strange wounds. John Gower, who makes his living trading secrets, is hired to discover not only the cause of death and the culprit responsible but who these men are. As he follows the evidence, he discovers that they were killed by a very recent invention – the handgonne.

His investigation is stymied by some very powerful men including the Mayor of London as wel
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Last February, I reviewed Bruce Holsinger’s novel A Burnable Book, which was set during the reign of Richard II with a central character drawn from history, the poet John Gower, who he also depicts as a blackmailer and detective—and a friend of the better-known writer Chaucer. Now, in The Invention of Fire, John Gower is back, attempting to solve a multiple murder and international intrigue that revolves around the newly developed “handgonne.”

Holsinger, a much-honored scholar of the medieval per
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mr Holsinger has once again written a marvelous historical fiction/mystery involving both John Gower as his primary amateur sleuth and including other colorful characters like Chaucer and the Duke of Gloucester. The plot twists and turns but deals with the introduction of the first handguns in warfare, which remarkably changed the tenor of warfare. It is a well written book incorporating real historical figures and fictional ones and the most engaging characters like the earless cut purse child. ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author is a professor of medieval history and I enjoyed the detailed depiction of life in 14th century London in his previous novel, A Burnable Book. Unfortunately, all I can recall of the plot of that first novel is that it was overlong, talky and confusing, and the tangle of storylines in The Invention of Fire is even more frustrating. The novel begins well, as the invention of history's first handheld firearms creates mystery, fear and political intrigue. But there are soon too many loose ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle-edition
So much better than the first installment. I'm so glad I decided to read this as it is so much better than A Burnable Book in many ways. The pacing and narrative name this a better read. While still a very dense novel (not a bad thing) this moved asking at a much better pace. I thoroughly enjoyed this and look forward to more about John Gower. ...more
Aishwarya Saxena
John Gower, unsuccessful poet, blackmailer, and a reluctant investigator is not an easy man to like. A court official who knew London well and a good friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, he became closely associated with the nobility and even professed an acquaintance with King Richard II. His potential to be a fictional ‘trader of secrets’ in a city of shadows, fear and filth was compelling, and one seized upon with imagination, relish and consummate mastery by Bruce Holsinger, an award-winning scholar ...more
I won this as a Goodreads Firstreads prize.
This is the second book in this series and as I had not read the first one, I wondered if I would be able to get into the characters and their world if I hadn't been around when it was set up in the first book. I shouldn't have worried though!
The cover has a quote from the Spectator 'Comparisons with C.J.Sansom are inevitable and justified' and to be honest, this kind of sums up my experience of this book. I hate to compare one author's work to another,
Nov 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edelweiss, reviewed
This is the second book featuring John Gower, a poet and information broker who was also a friend of Chaucer. I didn't love this book quite as much as I loved A Burnable Book, but that one was sort of a tough act to follow. The two books follow a similar pattern. There are several intertwined subplots and a lot of deception with the action culminating at an official gathering. For those who read the first book, Eleanor/Edgar makes a brief, uneventful appearance in the new book. Chaucer is also s ...more
Sep 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Really, really good. Well written, a credible mystery with twists, surprises, intertwined stories and a vast array of characters from all walks of life. Similar to the Brother Cadfael mysteries, with medieval settings and good writing, but set primarily in London and urban settings. Also Gower is not the same kind of hero the honest monk is, to say the least.

The draw here is Chaucer, one of the major characters in A Burnable Book, the first John Gower book and he is as witty, clever and shady h
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Another great historical mystery by Bruce Holsinger. As with the first John Gower novel, the period details were wonderful, the pacing was excellent, the various plot strands were woven together well, and there were several strong, realistic female characters holding their own in a world often dominated by men. Gower is a sympathetic protagonist, perhaps all the more so because of his flaws. What impressed me most, though, about the novel (which should be the case in every good histor ...more
Apr 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, mystery
I really wanted to like this book more than I did, but The Invention of Fire suffers from the same flaw that ruined A Burnable Book for me. Holsinger is an expert on the time period (late 14th century) and his book is well plotted and researched--but he switches perspectives, and that is a writing sin that is UNFORGIVABLE. When Sam Spade narrates The Maltese Falcon the mystery unfolds as Spade discovers it. However, if Holsinger followed that formula here, The Invention of Fire would be an unrea ...more
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
First business, I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

Now what matters .... I enjoyed this book. I did not read the first one but I don't believe that will reduce the impact and enjoyment of this book.

Most of the characters I could get into but I felt there should have been something more regarding John's son and hopefully he will show up in future novels. I also felt that there could have been more closure on Margery and Robert, after all most of the story involving them w
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, audio
I really enjoyed listening to this sequel to A Burnable Book. Simon Vance's voice brought 14th century London to life. John Gower is back with a new mystery to solve but the real entertainment for me was in the details of the time - - the first use of eye glasses for failing sight, the way the legal system functioned and punishments were set, the introduction of hand guns as a weapon for battle. Holsinger's books are well researched and convey so much information about midieval times while still ...more
Miriam Shadis
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This second novel in the Gower series I loved (much more than the first)! And the primary reason was the imagining of the earliest days of a society learning about guns... I had never thought much about the experimentation, and *practice* that had to take place in arming our world with "handgonnes." The story was good, too -- I loved the flawed characters and again, the depiction of medieval London. A very smart, thoughtful, and yet fun read. ...more
Kevin Findley
Holsinger really brought the world of the 14th century to life in this novel. Gower is a man of his times, a tradesman in secrets rather than metal or cloth. His character is one that would be able to navigate through a world of nobles and tyrants and come out alive, but with new enemies after every adventure. This is the first novel of his I have read, but it certainly won't be the last. ...more
nikkia neil
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edelweiss
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
For not being a fan of historical fiction, beyond post-war Agatha Christie, this story really pulled me in.
It was beautifully written and felt very authentic.
Above all, it was an excellent mystery.
A definite recommend.
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Good Era to spin a tale!
Exelent work !
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received this book in the goodreads giveaway.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I am giving this a 4.5

The ending seemed rushed to me and the epilogue rang a bit contrived.

Otherwise it was a well done story, with twists and turns and intrigue.
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book, set in the late 1500's, about the invention of handguns. Be sure to read his first book, A Burnable Book, first, however. ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Entertaining medieval mystery and political intrigue.
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Bruce Holsinger is a fiction writer and scholar of medieval literature who teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His first two novels, A BURNABLE BOOK and THE INVENTION OF FIRE, are set in and around medieval London, where the poets Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower spent much of their lives. His third novel, THE GIFTED SCHOOL, will appear from Riverhead Books in summer 2019.

He i

Other books in the series

John Gower (2 books)
  • A Burnable Book (John Gower, #1)

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