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Veil of Fire by Marlo Schalesky

 

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Veil of Fire by Marlo Schalesky

Reviewed by April Gardner

"...Schalesky's poetic style and fast-moving plot will have you hooked from start to finish."

The screaming flames surrounded the small town of Hinckley before most knew to flee. Hours later, the survivors picked their way out of the ashes and began anew. For the tight-knit town, the fire meant the inexplicable loss of family, devastating financial ruin, and the disquieting loss of faith. While some agonized over words left unsaid and gestures unmade, one man rejoiced. His secrets fled on the cinders to Heaven, along with everyone who knew them. Or had they? But in the wake of the maelstrom stood a scorched child of God, filled with resiliency, resolve, and the truth that would bring freedom and restore faith in God and in man.

~ back cover of Veil of Fire

The worst firestorm in American history takes place in the first four chapters of Veil of Fire. I read through those pages, hardly taking a breath, afraid of singing my lungs with smoke. The dramatic images Schalesky evoked were horrifying and captivating at the same time. Yet, I could hardly comprehend the magnitude of the event until later in the book when it was revealed that 400 square miles of 1894 Minnesota burned in a mere four hours.

Veil of Fire would be worth reading just to learn about this tragic freak of nature. But this novel offers much more than a history lesson. For those suffering from tragedy, for those questioning God’s motives, for those angry at their Creator, Veil of Fire is sure to be a balm to the soul. For everyone else, Schalesky’s poetic style and fast-moving plot will have you hooked from start to finish.

The characters are masterfully written. Each one faced the fire and survived but now suffers from tormenting questions.

Ellie wonders why God would take her mother and leave her in the care of prickly Arla Anderson. The orphan simply wants to live out her days in the town that holds memories of her Momma, but someone else has different plans for her. Plans to make her disappear, her knowledge of his sins with her.

Arla has lost her difficult daughter to the fire, but acquired more guilt that she can bear. What if things had been different? What if Arla had been more understanding? What if she hadn’t locked the door…?

Josef watched his wife die so that he might save their baby. Why did a godly woman die and a cow survive? Why did she burn while a worthless cart is left untouched by the flames? Did God cause the fire or allow it? Either way, Josef now wants nothing to do with Him.

Those that have left Lars Jensen behind have taken his ugly secrets with them. Life couldn’t be better. Maybe he can make a fresh start. However, it seems that evil is inescapable, a part of who Lars is. Before long, he has more sins to cover up. Not to worry. It’s just a matter of finding the right person to blame them on.

Finally, in the shadows, there’s the ghost. The Monster of Hinckley. The figure whose face was wiped away by the firestorm. But under the concealing hood and behind the red, angry scars is a heart softened by tragedy. This last character--once called “friend and neighbor,” now unloved and rejected--snags my pity and draws a tear from my eye. And through every page, I’m wondering…who is the ghost, really? My guess was wrong, which made the end of the book more satisfying.

I had never read Schalesky before, but if you showed me another of her books, I’d snatch it up and start reading before the next heartbeat. It was that good.

April GardnerApril W Gardner writes adult and middle grade historical fiction. Her first novel, Wounded Spirits, releases with Vintage Romance Publishing in November of this year. She is a member of ACFW and reviews for Title Trakk, At Home With Christian Fiction, and FIRST Wild Card Blog Tours. A military spouse, April has performed the art of homemaking all over the world. Currently, she lives in Georgia with her darling Hubby. A homeschool mom, she fills her mornings talking fractions and phonics with her two sweet kiddos. In her free time, April enjoys reading, gardening, and DIY. In no particular order, she dreams of owning a horse, visiting all the national parks, and speaking Italian. Visit April's Website or her blog, A Writer's Journey. You can also get to know April on Facebook and Twitter.