What a book… I did help format this book but my review is based on the fabulous writing that is held within the pages and not my involvement in the project (just for transparency I wanted to mention that small fact).
Girl on Fire wastes no time and throwing the reader headlong into the story, there is no preamble into this one it is a full on sprint, there’s no lengthy discussions about our main protagonist; we are like Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego and are thrown directly into the fiery furnace of this smoldering novella, make no mistake you’ll remember reading this book.
Ruby Miller is our protagonist and she’s a character that Gemma Amor has written about before, she appears in one of Amor’s short story collections, and it’s such a great short story that you can see why Amor wanted to give her a little more air time with her own novella. Ruby’s story is dark and there are some dark elements being dredged from the wreckage of her life, and Amor does a fabulous job at facing these head on, there is no shirking, it is honest and gritty prose that gets to the heart of the issue as we witness firsthand the darkness, destruction and obliteration that is left in Ruby Millers wake.
What I loved about this darkness is that it would be quite easy to show us this, but Amor has great restraint and resolve with her writing, believes in her own talent and instead of showing us these horrors (for shock value) she subtly infers them with tiny throw away lines, phrases that the characters utter or through a character thoughts, and it’s these subtly lines that absolutely obliterated me whilst reading. There is so much power in Amor’s words here that they tore my heart in two, whilst also making me so repulsed by this father figure (this may be because I’m a father myself of two girls) and it left me thinking what an evil sonofabitch.
I think the main driving force of this novella is the character work by Amor, Ruby is a fully realised character and she is one that has so many layers and within the novella we get a glimpse at a great many of these. We have the burning angst and troubled past, we see her quest for belonging and vengeance, we see her issues around attachment and fear of becoming attached, sexuality, hope and a hell of a lot more. But what I really enjoyed is the brutality that she shows, the storm that she brings, because Ruby Miller is the eye of the storm and people better get with the programme because she is coming for them, coming for revenge and coming to hold a mirror up to all those people that do detestable things… you better be ready for the judgement!
I’ve not seen this type of writing before by Gemma Amor, it is full on action scenes. I will say that White Pines pushed the envelope to this side of her writing, but Girl on Fire tears that envelope into tiny pieces and scatters it to the wind. There were elements of this book that brought to mind The X-Men, The Terminator and also for me a huge slice of The X-Files – but what we also get treated to in this offering is a tiny glimpse at, and what I am going to boldly pronounce as ‘The Gemma Amor Expanded Universe’. I am not kidding you I think all roads are leading home with this book, and the destination when we get there is going to be one hell of a ride.
In Girl on Fire we get treated to some ‘Easter Eggs’ for want of a better word (you know in films the small things that reference something only fans of that series would recognize). Amor does this with the slightly X-Files vibe as we learn of Rat Boy (from Rat Girl short story), we also hear of an Island off Scotland (White Pines) and there are countless other little nods, but I wont go into that here as the joy is spotting them all for yourself.
Ruby Miller is free at last. Free from her past, her tormentor, her shitty family and the even shittier odds she was given at birth.
But freedom has a price, and when the young girl hell-bent on starting a new life crashes her cherry red 1989 Pontiac Bonneville on America’s loneliest road, she finds out just how dear that price is.
The only issue I had with the book was that it took me a while to get my head around the vengefulness of Ruby as there were a few scenes where lots of innocent people fall under her reign of terror and carnage and I wondered why and how this would play out. I struggled to initially empathize with this character and her choice of vengeance, especially when those that were in the firing line (pardon the pun) sometimes were innocent or hadn’t done anything wrong. But as the story developed I warmed to her more and could see the reasons behind her actions and what the driving force behind these were.
I was like a rag doll in Amor’s clutches in this book as she threw me about, battered me, burned me and just had her wicked way – it was a rollercoaster of a ride and I never wanted it to stop, but the good news is, is that there will be more of Ruby Miller… so strap yourselves in for a ride into the blazing furnace and prepare to be burnt asunder!
Girl on Fire is a raging wildfire of a book that’s hold spreads to the very core of your body – and there is no way of putting out that fire. The only course of action is to keep on reading, keep on hoping and to keep on praying until you turn that last page. A masterful addition to the Gemma Amor cannon and I can’t wait for more!
Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of Nature, Dear Laura, White Pines, and Till the Score is Paid. She is also the co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Gemma’s stories feature on the NoSleep podcast, Shadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast. You can find her work in a number of horror anthologies, too.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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