I love when a book takes me surprise, yet unfortunately the phenomenon is uncommon (made especially so by my tendency to read spoilers and endings ahead of time). Yet World on Fire achieved that rare feat of keeping me on my toes in the best possible way.
After reading a summary that talked of visiting a reclusive artist in his ever-changing mansion, my mind conjured images of a somber, gothic-style atmosphere, yet World on Fire refuses to conform to any sort of conventional mold. Instead of a dark and brooding character, protagonist Cole is greeted by the delightful, ever-so-slightly insane Lucian. As Cole struggles to complete his assignment to interview the mysterious artist, Lucian
continues to thwart his guest’s efforts with increasingly peculiar antics and seemingly disjointed dialogue. Down the rabbit hole, indeed, yet while some readers have criticized the ambiguous, slowly developing plot and dialogue, I found Lucian’s character completely fascinating yet still totally relatable in his possible madness. While Cole lacks Lucian’s overtly interesting demeanor, he nevertheless serves as a sympathetic narrator to this whimsically unordinary tale.
James takes her time in revealing the workings of her strange world, and I delighted in unraveling the layers bit by bit. It’s a testament to her writing skill that James completely sold me on Lucian and Cole’s chemistry despite the short amount of time and unusual circumstances in which they get to know each other. As the story reaches its crescendo and all the pieces start to fall into place, James does little to dispel readers’ belief that her characters are just this side of sane, yet ultimately it doesn’t matter. I’ll gladly read another title by James in the future and hope that she doesn’t allow her next work to be any more conventional than this unique work.