Saturday, October 2, 2010

Smouldering Fires by Anya Seton

Anya Seton is one of my favorite authors of all-time. She writes engrossing historical fiction novels, and each novel is set is a very different place and time. Some of the novels even carry a hint of fantasy with them (Green Darkness and Foxfire to name two). I often would be reading one of the novels and think, this could not possibly be a true story, and then look up the history only to discover it was indeed a true story. Before the days of internet research, Anya Seton was able to find these fascinating vignettes of history and create compelling tales.

I first discovered Anya Seton at a library used book sale during the annual big car show in Vicksburg, Michigan. The novel was The Hearth and the Eagle and I was a teenager that loved historical fiction. I was riveted by this novel and wanted to read more Anya Seton novels. Alas, at that time, Ms. Seton’s novels were out of print so I began a decade long search for her novels at any used book sale or book store that I could find. I built up a pretty good collection, but I was more than excited when in 2004, the Chicago Review Press started to republish Anya Seton’s works in beautiful new editions. They started with Katherine, one of the novels I had been unable to find, and I was riveted by the classic novel. In fact, I chose it for a book club selection and my book club loved it as well. I am very happy that these books are being republished and have found new readers. I have been able to finish my Anya Seton collection as well as give them as gifts to fellow friends and family that love historical fiction.

Smouldering Fires is Anya Seton’s last novel. Originally published in 1975, it has just been republished this past month by the Chicago Review Press. Smouldering Fires differs in many ways from Anya Seton’s typical works. First of all, it is a very short book that is set in the present day with references to the past. This is somewhat similar to Green Darkness, another favorite Seton novel of mine, but in Smouldering Fires, the total action is set in the present and the past is only discussed. The main character is a teenage girl named Amy Delatour, but much of the story is set from her teacher Martin Stone’s point of view.

Amy Delatour is a dowdy, lonely, but very smart high school girl in Greenwich Connecticut. She lives in a small apartment with her domineering Yankee mother and loving French grandfather in the 1970’s. Amy has periods of “dreaming true” where she has visions of Greenwich as it appeared in the 1700’s and of a life in which she is a French Arcadian searching for her long lost love Paul, after the “grand derangement” of Arcadians by the British from Canada during the French and Indian war. Amy has come to believe that these visions are of the “true” Evangeline of Longfellow’s famous poem.

Amy finds a sympathetic ear in her new English teacher, Martin Stone. Martin has an interest in psychology and with the help of his girlfriend Claire; he is able to help Amy deal with her past life images and strange fear of fire.

I would classify Smouldering Fires as a young adult novel, almost a Green Darkness “light”. It deals a lot with Amy’s teen angst and inability to belong in society because of her special problem. Amy tries to find love and even her love life is tinged with problems from her past life.

I enjoyed the novel, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that it was very light on history. Unlike previous Seton novels, Smouldering Fires does not go into depth on the history of the Arcadian people and Amy’s past life experience. It is an interesting piece of history that I was previously unaware of, and it would be fascinating to learn more about.

Book Source: Review Copy from Chicago Review Press. Thank-you!


  1. This is an author that is new to me but since the prints of the books have taken place sometime ago, the possibilities of picking them up is very high! I will be keeping a look out for this author and thank you for the highlights.

  2. I have enjoyed the Anya Seton books I have read, but don't recall hearing about this one before.

  3. I first found Anya Seton through her book Dragonwyck back when I was in 8th grade - and also got Smouldering Fires in the bookstore at the time - 1976 - I too was hooked on her stories - Katherine, Avalon among others!