Fire by Night
post written by Esther Filbrun
Title: Fire by Night
Author: Lynn Austin
Series: Refiner’s Fire, book 2
Major Themes: Civil War, Historical Fiction, Nursing, Romance
Synopsis: The daughter of a wealthy judge, Julia Hoffman has needed nothing—until now, at the beginning of the Civil War, when she realizes that her spoiled upbringing is keeping her from her potential and also pushing the one man she’s always admired away from her.
I thoroughly enjoyed Fire by Night just as much, if not more, than Candle in the Darkness, the first book in the Refiner’s Fire series. Although some things in this book were ones that I didn’t necessarily agree with (more on that later), this was another excellent view of the Civil War, and I loved getting to know the characters from the last book a little more. I loved how history came to life. I’ve rarely read deep books that are as thoroughly steeped in history as Lynn Austin’s stories are. And since historical fiction is probably my most favorite genre ever, I tend to like these books more, too!
Julia Hoffman has been wanting to catch her young minister, Nathaniel Green’s, attention for years. Now, with the war, he’s even busier than before—but the busyness also gives her the opportunity to worm her way into events alongside him and try to leave good impressions. However, his indifference gets even worse when she overhears the minister making several remarks about flighty, selfish young girls—and she realizes she is one of them. Determined to change Nathaniel’s opinion of her, Julia tries to do whatever she can to be more self-reliant and less selfish. Then when an opportunity opens up for women to become nurses to help the war effort, she decides to try to do that to prove she can be a help to others instead of a burden—and perhaps she will finally get Nathaniel’s approval and notice. However, in order to even get into the position of a nurse, she must jump through a lot of hoops. Is it worth the risk of losing all—even the approval of her parents—just to prove a point? Will she even be allowed to help?
Then there’s Phoebe Bigelow, youngest sister to three brothers, someone who’s always longed to be a guy because girls are wimps. When her brothers head off to fight the war, leaving her as a servant to a large, noisy family, Phoebe thinks she might lose her mind. Instead of living in drudgery, she’s determined to find a bit more fun in life—and perhaps serve her country at the same time. She manages to wrangle a position as a soldier, but when the real battle comes, can she be strong enough—and brave enough—to withstand it, especially since everyone else around her thinks she’s a man?
This book had so much in it. Following the two girl’s stories were interesting enough, but seeing how they came to a conclusion was fascinating, too.
One of my favorite parts would have easily been the history, as the Civil War was brought to life in such a real way. I hate war, but I loved seeing how people were able to relieve the suffering a little by their efforts, and help others have a little hope even in the midst of darkness.
A close second would be the growth and transformation of the characters. I loved how both Julia and Phoebe were very selfish in the beginning, in their own ways, and how they grew over the course of the story. It was very gradual—I didn’t even really recognize Phoebe’s until now that I’m thinking about it—but it was there, and it was beautiful. I was challenged myself to examine the reasons for why I do the things I do—is it really to be helpful to others, or is there some ulterior motive going on as well?
And probably my third favorite element of Fire by Night was the fact that it focused on the medical side of the war. I’ve always been fascinated by the medical field, so reading about a nurse who was able to step in and walk alongside people who really needed help was quite the experience. It made me want to be able to help people that way, to an extent, but it also made me appreciate the medical services we have now. Yes, they may be far from perfect, but those people are still doing a greatly needed job!
I do want to note, though, that I don’t approve of the way both main characters in this story had to lie in order to do what they wanted or felt called to do. This happened on more than one occasion, and was the biggest thing I didn’t appreciate.
In all, Fire by Night was a fascinating kind of story, with lots of different elements to it. If you enjoy historical fiction with a good dose of reality, a bit of personal challenge, and a sweet romance, this would probably be down your alley!
“You can make up your mind and discipline yourself to do any task—kneading bread, caring for the wounded, changing bandages. But we can’t simply make up our mind to love others. The only way we can love the way God wants us to is when the Holy Spirit loves through us, when we give up control of our lives to Him. We prayed for strength these past few days, Julia, and God answered our prayer. Now we must pray for love.” —Sister Irene
WARNING: In ch. 1, pg. 11, someone says, “burns like the devil.” In ch. 1, pg. 14, someone says, “confound you”. In ch. 2, pg. 29, the phrase “hotter than blazes” is used. In ch. 4, pg. 47, the phrase “hang it all” is used. In ch. 13, pg. 199, the phrase “holy smokes” is used. In ch. 16, pg. 241, the phrase “good heavens” is used. In ch. 25, pg. 391, the phrase “I’ll be hanged” is used. Places are described as hell in ch. 2, 4, 10, 12, and 20. Someone swears (not explicitly) in ch. 4, pg. 62 and ch. 24, pg. 375. Someone lies in ch. 14, 19, and 27. Throughout the book, the two main characters lie fairly frequently about who they actually are—one pretending to be a man so she could fight, and one pretending to be married so she could be a nurse. There were too many individual instances to count. The word “blasted” is used approximately 17 times—ch. 1-2, 4, 6, 9, 13-15, 17, and 24. God’s name is used wrongly 10 times in ch. 1, 9, 12-13, 15, 19, and 24. The word “gosh” is used in ch. 4. The word “darn” is used in ch. 15.
Battles are described in ch. 1, 3, 9, 13, and 22. Wounded or killed men are described in ch. 1, 3, 7, 9, 12, 15, 19, 23, 24, and 26. Men die in ch. 10, 19, and 24. There is fighting described in ch. 6, pg. 91. A man is killed and two women are threatened with death in ch. 24. Operating rooms and mangled body parts are described in ch. 15, pg. 233 and ch. 17 (I know I probably missed some). Someone thinks about suicide in ch. 2, pg. 33. A man tells of seeing someone commit suicide in ch. 22, pg. 342. Someone is almost washed down a flooded river in ch. 11, pg. 175. A man drinks alcohol in ch. 18 and 22.
A girl thinks about her body shape in ch. 4, pg. 48. A girl thinks about “girl things” in ch. 4, pg. 65. Boys tackle a girl into the water and take off some of her clothing (because they don’t know she’s a girl) in ch. 13, pg. 199, demanding she take a swim. A boy sees a girl’s form in ch. 15 (not explicit). Disreputable women and a disease from that are mentioned in ch. 22. An unsavory man tries to force a woman in ch. 24, and nearly succeeds. A girl is afraid of men trying to rape her in ch. 27.
Someone thinks about kissing someone else in ch. 4, pg. 52. Unmarried people kiss in ch. 5, pg. 72, ch. 17, pg. 263 and 264, ch. 20, pg. 299, and ch. 21, pg. 319. Two unmarried people share a tent at night in the army—nothing happens, because there is the prevailing assumption that everyone in the army are male. A girl thinks about how she enjoys the sound of a man’s voice, or wants him to hold her, in ch. 6, pg. 88, ch. 9, pg. 141, ch. 17, pg. 265, and ch. 20, pg. 299, 300. Two unmarried people touch in ch. 10, 17, 21, 23, and 27. A man talks rudely about girls in ch. 7, pg. 107.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults
Links to buy Fire by Night:
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
Book Depository: Paperback
Keywords: Nursing, History, Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance, United States History, Civil War, North America, Books for Women