Any book that’s about Joan of Arc is bound to pique my interest. A timeslip novel (half modern day, half historical fiction) about this enigmatic figure is even more interesting, and when written by an author whose work I admire, even more so. It was with considerable expectation, therefore, that I started reading an advance copy of Into the Fire by Manda Scott.
The tale opens in present times with a feisty policewoman – Ines Picault – who is attempting to find the arsonists responsible for a string of attacks in the city of Orléans. Her only clue is the name of a long-dead, almost mythical figure: Joan of Arc. Pleasingly, Picault is no lilywhite character, no good Samaritan. Complex, not always likeable and prone to breaking the law when needed, she won me over page by gripping page.
Interspersed with the modern parts of the story are chapters set in the fifteenth century. They’re told – viscerally so – from the point of view of Tod Rustbeard, an English man-at-arms who’s sent undercover into French lines. His task: first to dismantle the myths growing around the ‘Maid of Orléans’, and then, to kill her. At this point, I’ll comment that it’s an uphill task for a writer to divert a reader’s attention from a known historical event which will impact on the story – in this case, Joan of Arc’s fate. Scott’s skill is such, however, and Rustbeard such an engaging character, that my suspension of disbelief was close to total.
To say I was blown away by this book is an understatement of the greatest magnitude. Into the Fire is in a word, magnificent. Page turning. Visceral. Mesmerising. Evocative – it’s so evocative. It’s filthy-nailed, sweat-stained, blood-drenched, gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, passion-wrenching. It’s everything I want a book to be – and as good as the finest historical fiction that’s out there.
Best of all – and this is rare indeed – I did not want it to end. From about the halfway point, I was checking the number of pages left to read. If there’s one book you go out and buy this year, make it Into the Fire. It’s a stormer of a read. Six stars out of five.
Read more about INTO THE FIRE on Manda Scott’s website
Ben Kane is the best-selling author of the The Forgotten Legion Trilogy and the Spartacus, Hannibal and Eagles of Rome series. His latest novel, Eagles at War, is out now.