Michael Joseph | 21 January 2021 | 400 pgs
If anyone ask me how would I describe C.J. Tudor's books, I'd say they're brooding and foreboding; and that she sure knows how to get her readers invested in the characters she's created.
The Burning Girls started with a bang with an explosive prologue which the reader will soon know it's a flashback. What follows thereafter is our protagonist, Reverend Jack Brooks learning that she has to transfer to a small church in Chapel Croft until they've found a replacement. Jack doesn't want to go, partly of her 15-year-old daughter Flo, but they've given her no choice.
Jack and Flo soon learn that Chapel Croft is far more than a quiet English countryside and it has a dark history surrounding the Sussex Martyrs during the religious persecutions of Queen Mary in 1556; whereby eight villagers were burnt at the stake, including two young girls. Each year on the anniversary of the purge, the residents will set alight of some small twig dolls they called Burning Girls to commemorate and honour the martyrs who died. As much as Jack is intrigued by this age-old tradition, she's more concerned about the suicide of her predecessor, Reverend Fletcher and the disappearance case of two young girls thirty years ago. No one knows what happened to Merry and Joy after all these time, but the residents assume that they'd simply run away from home and have gradually accepted their disappearance.
As Jack and Flo try to adjust to their new life in this close-knit community, bad things start to happen. For starters, someone is sending her mysterious twig dolls, then Flo claims she's seen the apparitions of the burning girls in the chapel. And of course, the question that plagued Jack regarding Reverend Fletcher's suicide and why no one wants to talk about it. As much as Jack wants to find out the truth, she's also concerned about Flo's safety and well-being especially with her interactions with two teenage delinquents and a guy whom Flo just got acquainted with. And then, there's someone from Jack's past whom she tries to avoid has come to Chapel Croft for her.
As you can see, there are multiple layers and subplots to this pacey story and despite the various threads Tudor has laid out, the conclusion was nicely tied up in a bow. The atmospheric setting was well done - from the creepy old chapel to an abandoned old building in the woods filled with graffiti of various evil symbols. The portrayal of the characters are vivid and believable; and I liked how Tudor created Reverend Jack Brooks to be a flawed, complex character with strength and weaknesses, as well as her role as both a (woman) vicar and a mother with different perspectives. Without saying more, this was an intense and a riveting suspense which I'm sure would thrill Tudor's fans and gain new readers as well.
Last but not least, I want to thank Lark for reading this book with me as part of our buddy read "assignments". Please visit her blog for her review and the Q&A. Here's her questions to me:
1. This is the second book by C.J. Tudor that we've read together--which one did you like better, The Chalk Man or The Burning Girls? Why?
I enjoyed both of the books, but I think I loved this one a bit more because of the atmospheric setting, the characters (in particularly Reverend Jack Brooks and Flo) and the various genres/issues implemented into this story. (Click here for Chalk Man review.)
2. How do you feel about the role that the legend of the burning girls played in this novel? (Too much, or not enough?)
I'd expected that there'd be more backstory of the legend of the burning girls, but regrettably there aren't much elaborations about them as I thought the martyrdom might add more intrigue and depth to this story. Then again, this is only a part of Chapel Croft history and not the main core of the story so I'd let this pass. 😉
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