Curbing curiosities with A.J. Hartley, author of Firebrand plus a review (and a giveaway)



Firebrand (Alternative Detective #2)

By: A.J. Hartley

Publisher: TorTeen

Publication Date: June 6th, 2017

Format: Hardback

New York Times bestselling author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in another adrenaline-pounding adventure

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

1) Can you give us a recap up until this point of what’s happened in the ALTERNAIVE DETECTIVE series? Describe FIREBRAND in 5 words or less.

Anglet Sutonga—Ang for short—works the high places of Bar-Selehm, a steam-driven industrial city in a place which resembles South Africa. In the first book she was recruited by a local politician to become an investigator/spy for certain powerful people in the city, trying to unravel a murder case in which she had a very personal connection.

In Firebrand Ang is: Climbing higher, risking even more!

2) What was the best, the worst, and the hardest thing about writing the second novel in a series?

The best thing about writing the second book of a series is that the world and many of its characters are already in place. But you have to make sure that everything follows logically from the first book and the world stays coherent, and that’s hard, and I had to build detailed maps, for example, to make sure everything worked.  The worst thing about a second book is that you can become complacent, serving up More Of The Same. I worked very hard to make sure that didn’t happen here, pushing Ang well outside her comfort zone and giving her an entirely new set of challenges.

3) A book goes through a lot of different versions and rounds of editing before it’s complete.  What are some “fun facts” or behind the scenes info you can share about the characters from your book or the world you created for it that may or may not have made it to the final draft of the book?

One scene in the book centers on Ang being trapped in a house with a pack of hyenas. I wrote this sequence with an eye to an experience I had in South Africa when a baboon got into my kitchen and wouldn’t leave. Baboons are nothing like so scary as hyenas, of course, but they are strong, clever, unafraid of people, and they bite. This one got up on the counters and stared me down however much I yelled at it. I was very unsettling! Somehow being close to wild animals INDOORS is way worse than encountering them outside.

4) Who was your favorite character to write and who gave you the most trouble? If you could ask a character of your choice from FIREBRAND one question what would it be?

Ang is my favorite character to write, particularly in FIREBRAND because she’s more comfortable in her own skin here, particularly in dealing with her employer’s aristocratic sister, Dahria. The two of them get very snarky with each other, and that’s a lot of fun to write: snappy, witty banter between people who know how to wield words and pretend not to like each other. If I had to ask one character one question, I’d ask Ang who she wanted to be. It’s the question that underlies the whole series as she figures out what she believes in and is prepared to fight for.

5) What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)? Is there a scene that you had difficulty with and just had to “power through” to finish the book?

There’s a scene in which Ang has to disguise herself as a foreign princess in order to get into an exclusive club, and has to make polite conversation with people who secretly despise her. It’s all very polite and really rubs her the wrong way, but it’s also where she will learn a lot about the book’s core mystery so she has to play nice. As to difficult scenes, the ending is complex and action packed. I always feel like I’m part fight choreographer and part traffic cop writing those sequences because they have so many moving parts and nobody involved has time to think. I like to get through the combat to a moment where the characters can reflect on what just happened.

6) What are the top five things we should know as a reader before starting FIREBRAND? (about the main character, their love interest, the antagonist, their world/home town, their situation, etc)

  1. The city of Bar-Selehm is racially divided which is crucial to the politics of the story, and to the life of the main characters. Think of it like apartheid. Ang is brown skinned.
  2. Ang, the hero of the book, is an expert climber, particularly on the city’s industrial architecture such as tall chimneys. It’s how she made her living before becoming the spy/detective she is now.
  3. Ang hasn’t figured out who her love interest is yet, though there are a few contenders. As a teenaged steeplejack, she hasn’t had much time for romance and is tougher than most possible partners would be prepared to handle.
  4. Ang is a city girl. The lions and elephants which haunt the bush lands outside the city terrify her and she has no experience of dealing with them.
  5. The main antagonist of FIREBRAND is a white supremacist politician with designs on the city.

Firebrand follows-up one of my favorite, and more unique, reads of last year: Steeplejack. We are back with Ang in Bar-Selehm, and Firebrand has the same fantastic world building, characters, and complex plot of it’s predecessor.

There is more action here than in Firebrand and while that means it is super fun, there are political and social aspects that run throughout the narrative that give it more depth. Taking place in an alternate-history South Africa, this action and political commentary is sprinkled with a dash of fantasy and not a little bit of fresh air. Reading an alt-history novel that doesn’t take place in American or European society is beyond refreshing.

Ang and her peers are witty with heaps of personality and the cast is diverse and vibrant. The villains are believably vile, and our heroine and her cohorts are relatable and easy to root for. Firebrand‘s story is self contained, I would go so far as to say you could read it and greatly enjoy it without finishing Steeplejack (though why you would choose to do this is beyond me), and there are no cliffhangers. That doesn’t mean, though, that I’m not eagerly awaiting book three.

Author A.J. Hartley is the bestselling writer of mystery/thriller, fantasy, historical fiction, and young adult novels.

He was born in northern England, but has lived in many places including Japan, and is currently the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, where he specializes in the performance history, theory and criticism of Renaissance English drama, and works as a director and dramaturg.

He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, all of which you can learn more about by friending him (odious word) on Facebook, by following his blog and by checking in on the What’s Going On blog page. He is represented by Stacey Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management for books, and by Eddie Gamarra of the Gotham Group for film and television. And check out A.J.’s Amazon author page.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. The author image, info, giveaway and more were provided by Jean Book Nerd Tours. A copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Comments · 2

  1. I never get tired of watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. I’ve been watching it since it came out in the 90’s and I love it every single time. 🙂

    1. The opening song is my favorite, I’m guilty of watching my family’s old VHS copy every Halloween AND Christmas, and Sally and Jack were my OTP before I knew what OTP’s were.

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