Rachel Kerthen has the perfect life. A wonderful older husband, David, a beautiful stepson, Jamie and the keys to a grand manor house, Carnhallow, in the midst of the Cornish countryside. Giving up her somewhat limited life in London to become the lady of the manor, restoring the building to its former glory will be her project, one she takes over from David’s seemingly perfect first wife, Nina, who died in a tragic accident at Carnhallow.
But, as Rachel soon learns, life at Carnhallow is not as idyllic as it seems. For the house and the Kerthen family have a chequered past. Their money made from mining when many others had tried and failed, it was believed that the Kerthens possessed some special gift. Some foresight which allowed them to know and understand where to find the rich veins of copper and tin which would make them rich. But their riches came at a cost. For the mines were a dangerous place to work, whole communities were devastated and hundreds of lives were lost in the tunnels which ‘run deep under the sea.’
Shortly after Rachel moves to Carnhallow, her stepson starts to withdraw, becoming quiet and scared in her presence. Convinced that his mother never truly left them and that she will return to him. When he starts to tell Rachel of dreams he has had dreams which seemingly come true, she begins to wonder if there is any truth in the theory that the Kerthens really can see into the future. For if they can, if Jamie possesses this gift, what truth lies in his latest prediction: ‘You will be dead by Christmas.’
The Fire Child is a true psychological thriller. It is not filled with shock moments, grizzly discoveries or physical threats. The tension is drawn skilfully from the unknown, the isolation of the home and the myriad of secrets which seem to be the foundation of not only Rachel and David’s marriage but the entire family history. Neither Rachel nor David have been entirely honest and the slow unravelling of the lies, the revelation of their secrets, adds to the feeling of mistrust of all of the characters. You will barely have a chance to know where the real danger lies.
The descriptions of the Cornish landscape are vivid and carry such an air of truth, a real slice of Cornish history, that it adds a real dimension of threat to the piece. The weather conspires with the chilling history of the family and the home, so much so that at times it seems to be a character in its own right. The descending mist distorts everything around it, just as the lies within the family, distort the truth of what is happening at Carnhallow.
I really enjoyed this tale. There is a slow building tension which ramps up the closer we get to Christmas. The pace is not frenetic, reflecting the slow pace of the rural Cornish life, and yet when it needs to be, it delivers pace and heightens the senses in a truly dramatic way. It also has a cautionary element, so often told. Marry in haste, repent at leisure. For what had seemed perfection for both Rachel and David was a marriage based on a foundation of lies. Never a good way to start.
If you are looking for shocks, and thrills, then this is probably not the novel for you. This is atmospheric, almost haunting, and challenges you to open your mind to all possibilities. It is a polarising novel, people perhaps reading the blurb and expecting more of a ghost tale, or a darker explanation for the death of David’s first wife. Read for what it is, this is a skilfully written look at the impact of isolation, abuse and loss on fragile minds.
A fine and fair 4 stars.
The Fire Child was published on 16th June 2016 and is available to purchase here:
Thanks to Net Galley and publishers Harper Collins UK for providing a copy of ‘The Fire Child’ by SK Tremayne in exchange for my review.