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"Between Two Fires" Book Review

Written by Zach Rosenberg

Independently Published

Between Two Fires Poster Large

Written by Christopher Buehlman
2012, 436 pages, Fiction
Released on October 2nd, 2012


I got into reviewing to talk about books I enjoy. Between Two Fires is difficult for me because where do I begin? It's the definition of an underrated gem now given a new life by Christopher Buehlman's recent and well-deserved success with the Blacktongue Thief, kept alive by a strong and steady fanbase. Historical horror is a fascination of mine and this does not disappoint.

In the 14th century, France was ravaged by the Black Death. This situation was not improved by the nation having suffered crippling military defeats against the English crown. As nobles war, the people suffer and nowhere is this more apparent in the spiritual war up above and down below. God is silent. Lucifer plots a final revenge that will see heaven overthrown for good and all. What is the life of a single man next to that?

Buehlman tells us the answer: it's everything.

Thomas is a bitter man. His title, his home, his wife, were taken from him by no fault of his own and he is excommunicated by a corrupt system. He has taken to banditry and has earned the damnation fostered upon him. But within him, the spark of conscience rings true and he rescues a mysterious girl from his own lecherous companions. The two set off on an odyssey through the grim lands of France.

And grim it is. Human misery is not shied from in Buehlman's work. Devils work their wickedness, but it would not be possible without the evil of mankind. Mankind is corrupt, venal, treacherous and violent. But this is no novel of brutal, grimdark nihilism. Buehlman is smarter than that.

It is a novel of hope, redemption and love. The love between a father and a daughter. Of a man who's lost everything learning to care again and discovers he is better than he ever thought. And through it is the horror of war, material and spiritual.

Bel-Phegor, Ra'aum and Baal-zebub are the chief purveyors of Lucifer's will, a trio of monstrous, clever devils who have infiltrated France and spread their own gospel of wickedness. It is in one castle that Bal-Phegor hosts a nightly court of the damned where human souls are tortured in a grim, unending parody of a human ball. Ra'aum travels the land as a preacher to incite the humans of the French towns to violence and depravity, while Bal-Zebub infiltrates the Catholic church to stir up genocidal fervor against the Jews.

There is no magic 'rule' against the devils. They can reach out and take a human being apart. There is no guardian angel to save you. But they are terrifying not because of how they look or whom they kill, but what they incite humans to do. They know the darkness is there. They just have to stoke it and direct it. The court of the damned is luridly written and haunting. Rutger's preachings are frightening in how true they might still ring, for the devils’ aim to set brother against brother, anger humans for the differences between them and promise a counterfeit salvation if they will only hate the right person.

All of this leads up to an apocalyptic finish. It would be so easy to craft a nihilistic fable where humanity is alone against evil, but this is not that book. It takes far more skill to write a novel of hope, where a young girl holds the key to everything. The novel tells an epic story in its page count, with this truly being the story of Thomas, the girl, and Matthieu the priest. Buehlman's prose is rich and prosaic and he paints a picture of a living and breathing land. A scarred land full of terrified people.

It's an involving cast, full of dynamic characters, good and bad. Perhaps the only flaw I can truly say is the devils become a bit less scary in their bombastic nature once they are revealed. They're crude, foul-mouthed beasts, in contrast to their more sinister and subtle human guises, but this is an ultimately minor complaint in the grand scheme.

The climax is built up throughout the novel and does not disappoint. It's epic in a well-earned sense, with the themes of redemption and hope continuing up until the end. There is pain but there is earned happiness. Buehlman tells us that this is a grim world, where hate exists and thrives. But hope exists and it's worth fighting for. Worth enduring for.

And that, in the end, is everything. Between Two Fires is simply an incredible novel and I cannot recommend it enough.


Overall: 5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Zach Rosenberg
Staff Reviewer - USA
Zach Rosenberg is a fantasy and horror writer living in Florida. He appreciates the ocean, wildlife and his love of literature was constantly nurtured growing up where he practically lived in the libraries, reading every horror and fantasy book he could get his hands on. His print debut short story "The Teeth Of the Deeps" is featured in the fifth short story collection from Dead Sea Press.
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