Book Thread 2024

Nice! I’m about 1/3 through this and enjoying it as well :slight_smile:

I’ve finished Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

The book cover notwithstanding, the title is a reference to the two fires supposedly kept burning to ward away the plague in Pope Clement VI’s audience chamber in 1340’s Avignon. OK, this book. Wow. this book is one of my favorite genres: cosmic horror based on Christian mythology, like Nathan Balingrud’s Wounds or, I guess, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. I wish there was more of it!

The story follows a deposed minor lord: a knight-turned-brigand named Thomas, a teenage girl orphaned by the plague who is called “girl” for about 1/3 of the novel but is named Delphine, and a gay priest named Matthieu. The story takes place in France in 1348, at the height of the Black Death there. This is an apocalypse novel. The world is ending and the forces of hell have been given free reign on earth. Death and lawlessness are ascendant and monsters roam the countryside. The narrative feels a bit like a pilgrimage as epic poetry: it’s somewhat episodic. The party will arrive in a town, something horrible will happen, and they’ll move on, slowly making their way to Paris and then on to the Papal seat at Avignon. The period detail is outstanding here; Buehlman really did his research. It’s a rare historical novel without a feel of anachronism; the world seems fully realized and the characters fully inhabit it with no sense of looking backward from the present or anticipation of the future.

Speaking of characters, they are really well drawn. Thomas is exactly the right kind of dangerous but tractable oaf. I read a review that likened him to Sandor Clegane and that’s a pretty good comparison. Delphine is exactly a teenage girl: naive and righteous, but demure and humble, but joyful and insistent. Matthieu is a drunkard, conflicted, weak, but also kind and big-hearted and good.

And the horror, well there’s a lot of it: gore, monsters, demons, living corpses, terrible people, peril in every corner of the landscape. It’s pretty glorious. A few posts above, I likened it to Red Rabbit in its storytelling style, but after finishing I think it’s more like The Green Knight or one of the Souls games. Dark, portentous, bewildering, epic. I really liked this novel.