Blue Flame is a historical fiction novel, published in 2008, and written by K. M. Grant. It is the first book in the Perfect Fire Trilogy. It is set in Occitania, an unofficial region in Southern France, during the Cathar Crusade, which took place in the 13th Century, and explores both the religious conflict between the Catholics and Cathars, and the political conflict between France and Occitania. The second novel in the trilogy is White Heat.
Yolanda is the daughter of the Count of Castelneuf, aged nearly 14, and has grown up with her childhood friend, Raimon, 15. A romance between the two is growing, but there is a problem. Quite apart from the social class difference between the two, Yolanda's family is Catholic, while Raimon's family is Cathar. This has never been a problem for them, but, as they grow older, and the religious and political tensions heat up, their idyllic life together is threatened. The French king wants the region the two live in—Occitania—to stop being semi-independent and come under his direct control. Only one thing has any power to stop the king having his wish: the mysterious Blue Flame. Supposedly lit at the time of Jesus Christ's death, and recognised by Occitanians as a symbol of their country, it could unite Catholics and Cathars under one banner. There's just one problem. Nobody knows where the Blue Flame is. An old Knight, Parsifal, has it in his keeping. But he doesn't know who to give it to, and has had it for 40 years. Occitania's last chance of freedom is slipping away. And, meanwhile, Yolanda's brother has plans to marry her off to a wealthy Frenchman...
Blue Flame is a very good historical fiction novel. The book is very readable, without being written for teenagers who have the concentration span of a 3-year-old. The book starts quite slowly, but the adventure really kicks in after about the first third, from which time it really gripped me, and I was desperate to find out what happened! The beginning could put slow readers off, but as I read quickly, this wasn't a problem. It is also probably not good for young children, as the plot is quite complicated and, at points, hard to follow. The romance between Yolanda and Raimon is well portrayed, and all the characters are very well drawn. I'm not quite sure what the author's going to do with the Blue Flame—the only "fantasy" element in the story—but as a device it worked reasonably well, although it wasn't as convincing as the rest of the story. I have a strong interest in history, so the historical backdrop to the story was great. I have little knowledge of French history, so this book educated me, as well as entertaining me!
However, I did have one main negative about the book. The author's very clear stance on religious persecution is that neither Cathars or Catholics should kill the other side. As a Christian, I agree with this; the Bible clearly states not to kill, and to love your enemies. (What the Cathars and Catholics were doing I have no idea—they clearly hadn't read the Bible for a few years!) If a non-Christian should read this, however, he may think that the Bible promotes the idea of killing anybody who doesn't agree with your views, which it clearly doesn't. In this book, Raimon, the hero, is neither Cathar or Catholic, which I find slightly worrying, although I'll have to see how the author develops this in the second and third books. If this view is, however, promoted as the "correct" view to take, I wouldn't recommend the book to non-Christians. As a Christian, however, I have no particular problem with it.
I did have a couple of other gripes with the book, though. At certain points, for instance, in the introduction and end, the land, the Amouroix-in-Occitania, has a voice. For example, "I am the Amouroix", or "I thought I saw them again". I found this incredibly frustrating and distracting from the fantastic third-person novel. I saw no need for it. Giving a country a voice is something I have never met before, and I think there's a very good reason for that. It doesn't work. Also, there were several basic proof-reading errors that should have been ironed out. Really sloppy from the publisher.
Overall this book was very good. Just these few negatives kept it from being really excellent. However, I'm very much looking forward to reading White Heat (Book 2), which is always a good sign.
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- Reading Age: 13+
- Reading Aloud Age: 12+
Several of the characters are in serious danger at different points. There is also the occasional swear word.
If you like this you might like
- The second and third books in this trilogy, White Heat and Paradise Red.
- Another great modern historical fiction novel, which also explores religious conflict, is Crusade.
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