Smouldering Fires

Written by Anya Seton
Review by Vicki Kondelik

Amy Delatour, a shy, awkward high school senior, lives an unhappy life in Greenwich, Connecticut in the 1970s. Her mother is cold and distant, and only her French-Canadian grandfather gives her any love. For several years, Amy has been experiencing “true dreams” about her distant ancestor, Ange-Marie, separated from her beloved Paul during the forced expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia in 1755. Amy’s phobia of fire somehow relates to Ange-Marie’s experiences. When Amy tells Martin Stone, her English teacher who is studying psychology, about these visions, he decides to try hypnotizing her to discover what is causing her dreams, and what really happened to Ange-Marie.

But Amy’s nightmares become increasingly vivid. One day, as she leaves Martin’s apartment, she sees the city as it looked in the 18th century. And during a visit to an old colonial house, she becomes certain that this is where Ange-Marie worked as a servant after her exile. After one particularly frightening experience, Amy’s face and hands are covered with burns, even though she has not been touched by fire. What is happening to Amy? Is it time travel? Reincarnation? Genetic memory? Martin is determined to find out, or Amy’s life may be in danger.

I have long enjoyed Seton’s novels – in fact, Katherine is one of my all-time favorites. Smouldering Fires (c1975) is certainly compelling and suspenseful, but I wish that there had been more of an explanation of Amy’s visions/nightmares. The ending seemed rushed and ultimately unsatisfying. I found the historical sections about Ange-Marie and Paul and the French Acadians fascinating, but I would like to have seen them come alive a bit more, and perhaps a whole section of the book could have been devoted to the historical characters, who appear only in Amy’s dreams.