Fire of the Word

Written by Carol Pratt Bradley
Review by J. Lynn Else

Sixteenth-century England is in turmoil. In London, Henry VIII has declared himself as head of the church, and Catholics are punished if they don’t acknowledge him as such. Meanwhile, Protestants are also being punished if they don’t follow the Catholic doctrine.

In Lincolnshire, Anne Ayscough is preparing to say goodbye to her sister, who will soon leave home to be wed. Anne never could have imagined that her sister would catch fever and depart from their home in death. Nor could she have guessed that her father would force 15-year-old Anne to take her sister’s place in the marriage. Making matters worse, her betrothed’s family is Catholic and strongly against the Protestant Reformation, of which her family are followers. Anne quickly finds herself an outcast in her new family’s house. She tries to follow the examples of her heroes in the Bible. She starts a school to teach children to read and is a giver at heart. Despite her gentle ways, terrible events befall her. As new religious ideas clash against old traditions, Anne is forced to choose between renouncing her faith and being sentenced to a fiery death.

The book’s warring factions are rather black and white: one side is bad (and intolerant) and the other is good. However, Bradley establishes early on who her target audience is. While the Protestant-sided viewpoint does not surprise, a few neutral characters would have expanded the story’s depth. Based on the true life of Anne Ayscough (Anne Askew), this well-researched story is about a young woman forced into difficult choices. Characters are brought to life sympathetically through a thoughtful and lyrical narrative. With few legal rights for women, Anne’s story is both moving and relevant. An emotional journey recommended to those who enjoy stories about this time period and/or about women of faith.