When Kevin Johnson, 22, goes to Wallace, Idaho, days after his college graduation, he expects to find rest and relaxation as his family prepares his deceased grandfather’s house for sale. Then he discovers a hidden diary and a time portal that can take him to 1910, the year of Halley’s comet and the largest wildfire in U.S. history. Within hours, Kevin finds himself in the era of horse-drawn wagons, straw hats, and ankle-length dresses. Returning to the same time and place, he decides to travel again and again and make the portal his gateway to summer fun. The adventure takes a more serious turn, however, when the luckless-in-love science major falls for pretty English teacher Sarah Thompson and integrates himself in a community headed for tragedy. Filled with humor, romance, and heartbreak, THE FIRE, the sequel to THE JOURNEY, follows a conflicted soul through a life-changing journey as he makes his mark on a world he was never meant to see.
[Full disclosure: John Heldt gave me an ARC of his latest novel in exchange for an honest review.]
John Heldt is probably the only man that can make me consistently cry. And that’s a good thing!
Kevin Johnston is the son of Shelly Preston, our protagonist from The Journey. As you may recall, an older Michelle had time travelled back to see her younger self and her story did not end well. So you could say time travelling is in the family and that Kevin can’t get away from it, especially when you learn a certain character from The Mine is his university professor.
Once again I thought I had Kevin’s journey pretty well predicted. Yet he surprised me at every turn. He knew it was a bad idea to go back to 1910 and that it was a bad idea to get so involved in people’s lives in Wallace and yet I understand his motives for wanting to go back there. Yet whatever mysteriously causes time travel is not going to forgive Kevin for messing with history and the conclusion of the novel is absolutely heart-breaking and at the same time, joy-inducing. The Fire is such an emotional roller coaster that I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts down to write this review.
I was so connected to the characters, perhaps more so than I have been in John Heldt’s previous three novels. Kevin really did speak to me. He was a good person if a little flawed because of that chip on his shoulder when it came to women. Still, he got over that eventually and at the end of the novel you can really tell he’s a better person. His relationship with Sarah, his confused feelings for Sadie and his friendship with Andy all made him more realistic and much easier to sympathize with. Yet these characters weren’t put there for the sole purpose of providing opportunities to show what a nice guy Kevin is! No, they’re excellent, well-developed characters in their own right.
I liked how the pacing was generally consistent throughout The Fire and that although it definitely sped up at the end, it wasn’t as rushed as the ending of The Show. John Heldt definitely took more time to build up the historical town of Wallace in order to build up the tension for the coming fire that would level most of the town. His descriptions were much more vivid in this installment of the Northwest Passage series and I think The Fire was a better book for it.
John Heldt’s writing just keeps getting better and better with each book. Although the theme of time travel features in all four, he has created very different characters to tell the story of America and each achieves happiness in their own, unique way. Even if you haven’t read the first three books of the series, The Fire can certainly stand on its own, which is why I recommend you pick it up right this instant. Yes, it’s that good.
I give this book 5/5 stars.