Fawkes by Nadine Brandes | Review

Pages: 450

Genre: young adult fantasy


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

My thoughts

Rating three out of five:

I enjoyed this book for the most part, especially in the beginning as Thomas are thrown out of magic school and seeks his father Guy Fawkes to get his mask he needs to connect to a colour and get his magical abilities. As he gets dragged into the gunpowder plot to assassinate the king, we learn with him as readers, and I thought it was well-done without too heavy information dumps. Then the middle part arrived and I started to get bored, and confused.

the characters 

The interactions between Emma and Thomas lead to them both learning and one wasn’t there just for the others behalf. Emma is very determined, which I liked, and it’s obvious what kind of girl the author did not want her to be, even if she’s under the care of wealthy people and without measures to get free. We get to see a lot of Thomas’ journey in the middle part of the book, and there were some moments of clarity I really liked. Emma could show him another perspective, his father showed him the gravity of the situation and the Gunpowder plot, he himself saw the conditions “his people” the Keepers were under as they were executed. The moral dilemmas he went through really had something to say for the ending of the book and it was interesting seeing that journey he took.

That said, I had a few things that didn’t sit right with me in this book. As much as I liked Emma’s determination and strong will, it made her very predictable as a character. I’ve read other fierce female characters who avoided this, and when you know she’s going to follow, or eventually break out of other’s control, it makes her plotline very obvious. Still, her fighting people and Thomas standing there silently cheering her and being impressed was awesome. 


The author really spelled out what she wanted to include in this book, like literally on the last pages or afterword. I would not mention this had it not also been very obvious throughout the book. She wanted to show a historical fiction where a female character finds her independence, with moral dilemmas over those in power and including and raising questions around slavery and treatment of people of colour. And all that’s great, but those things had a very streamlined, straight-forward and predictable route even as the plot itself had its twists and was interesting done. It felt too one-dimensional in comparison to the rest of the book, perhaps to make sure the points were clear enough.

the stone plague

Through the whole book I realized Thomas being plagued was like a portrayal of illness/injury and how it can change identity and be an insecurity. Emma talks to him about not letting her darker skin define her, and that conversation was really good. At the same time, with the exception when he’s stabbed and plagued for the second time, he doesn’t seem to really feel it physically. Like he’s worried about people’s thoughts, obviously as it makes him a target, but he’s not in pain and when it’s mentioned how his skin turns to stone it’s more like the skin is a bit tight which sounds so unbelievable. I don’t think the author did anything wrong, it’s just one of these smaller things that doesn’t make sense to me. Let me tell you, as I’m typing this my fingers are hurting because of joint problems, you cannot have a plague turning you into stone and not be in constant pain or uncomfortable, if that’s not explicitly stated. 


the damn White Light

Then it’s White Light as a concept. I’ve read enough Sanderson books to consider it a god in this world (not that I’m comparing books here). But do you want a Light who is able to talk to and know everyone? How the hell would we have the plague in the first place if White Light could guide people like he did with Thomas? The moment I realized Thomas was supposed to have as much power as Dee who had studied it for so many years, when the Light could give him (and possibly others) its god-sized ability, that reduces the credibility drastically. It’s a known trap in fantasy, like that moment made it obvious whatever side Thomas was on would win and ruined the whole finale. Like Thomas could’ve gotten his father out of prison, definitely. The Light could have a whole army of teen boys out there doing its bidding. Also did it want the Keepers dead? I’m confused.

Everything else is so spelled out that I need an explanation to why you have a god with such powers and ability to bend others to his will basically, who knows enough about people to be witty about Emma’s determination, and it comes down to the ending this book has. The characters never questions its intention.

the ending

The ending really didn’t work personally, it was apparent that the gunpowder plot would not go down in the book either, the fact that Thomas didn’t tell his dad about Dee’s bad intention made barely sense in the beginning and the characters went out of character for the whole ending, the way I see it. Thomas could have flipped a switch and become very secure in the White Light, fine, but the rest of them … I was done.

The feeling this book gave me: intrigued, but never satisfied with a big finale or explanations

Thanks to publisher Thomas Nelson for receiving this copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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