For what it’s worth, I absolutely didn’t even realize that “Fire in Heaven” is a sequel when I read it, not until I sat down to write my review. That being said, I can say that you do not need to read the first book in order to fully appreciate the sequel. It never even crossed my mind that I was missing out on anything.
And this book is stunning.
It’s big, an epic, really. More than 600 pages, but it only spans about two years. But the details in it, the intricately woven stories of the characters make it an epic.
The perspective of the story rotates between four people – Vera, a Russian ex-pat in Thailand who married an American after loving a Chinese warlord; Sonia, the daughter of Vera and the warlord, who wants to return to the land of her father; Philip, the American who loves Vera more than she loves him, to the point that he betrayed the warlord; and Rama, an Indian man who starts as a servant but becomes an integral part of the lives of the other three. It seems like a lot of characters to focus on, but it isn’t. It works because each of their stories are connected on the deepest levels and a reader can’t help but want to follow each and every thread.
China, Thailand, and India serve as settings for the story and a reader can’t help but feel transported to each of these places. The story is set in the late 1940s and travels all over Asia but it is abundantly clear that the author researched and knew what he was writing. From the way signs on antique shops in Thailand (then Siam) were written, to the shades of red that betel can dye teeth, to how many steps there are on holy mountains in China… the reader is put in those places. The settings of the story really are the supporting character.
Things get a little questionable when a particular romance blooms in rural China, in the middle of a war, but not questionable enough to ruin the book. The romance isn’t a major plot point and it’s easily enough overlooked.
The ending of the book is a bit predictable, but “Fire in Heaven” is a sprawling, fascinating story nonetheless.
(I received a copy of “Fire in Heaven” through NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.)