The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was annoyed and skeptical when I read a blurb about The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor. Middle-aged lady priest and precocious teen daughter are sent to the hinterlands of the UK where they encounter supernatural phenomena. As a devoted fan of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series, I was mightily offended on his behalf. While building your story around characters similar to another author’s is most definitely NOT plagiarism, it did feel a little, I don’t know—thievish, maybe?
And the first third of the book seemed to bear out my preconception that Tudor had decided to lift Merrily out of Rickman’s rich pagan-Celtic landscape of Welsh borderlands and instead plunk her down in a more anonymous, action-packed generically rural setting.
But at some point, Tudor’s lady priest, Jack Brooks, begins to diverge sharply from any resemblance to Merrily Watkins. The first hint comes when she gives a teenage girl the finger on relatively slim provocation. By the end of the book, there is absolutely NO mistaking Jack for a carbon copy of the more contemplative, gentle, angst-ridden Merrily Watkins. Ultimately, whatever inspired CJ Tudor to create this character, she definitely took it in a different direction from Rickman beloved Deliverance Minister.
As to the actual story of The Burning Girls: it’s a fast read with a lot of action. There are two big twists near the end—one I saw well off because ample clues were planted along the way. The other felt a little over the top but certainly helped propel the plot forward and tie all the disparate storylines together.
The marketing materials I’d read talked up the supernatural angle, but truthfully there is very little supernatural going on, and what’s there is more window dressing than central to the plot.
As other reviewers have pointed out, there’s a distressingly high percentage of bad stereotypes in the secondary characters, but if there’s a second book about Jack, I’d be willing to check it out.
If you enjoy this book, but want something that really does offer more of a supernatural element, along with a fantastically evocative setting, do check out Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series.
Burning Girls Trigger warnings: child abuse, rape, mental illness, suicide.
Burning Girls Generally annoying warnings: Yet another British murder mystery where all the gay characters are deceitful , dangerous, mentally ill, or all of the above. (What is up with this?! I’ve seen this in the last 3-4 British novels I’ve read!) The only characters of color are minor but magnificently negative stereotypes. Persons with disabilities (both mental and physical) don’t come off too well either.
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