Amid the wildness of 1850s San Francisco, Beninger's well-written tale does not lack for action. Teenage Guinevere Walker chafes at the dictums of high society, rebelling against her doctor father's wishes that she act like a lady. Though she's a strong character, Guine's very spunkiness sometimes comes off as cliche. Meanwhile, John Patrick, aka Jack Moylan, feels more original -- a kind of Huck Finn who makes the best of the terrible things life throws at him. While the story is solid, shading in more depth and complexity to these characters would take this novel to the next level.
Date Submitted: July 14, 2016
Reviewed by Julia Ann Charpentier
June 18, 2015
This talented author’s literary approach brings out the period atmosphere and a near tangible sense of place.
Danger thrusts two vulnerable adolescents into the mire and mayhem of 1851 San Francisco in this coming-of-age novel. A Veil of Fog and Flames, by Lori Hart Beninger, delves into the anguish and turmoil associated with maturing in an environment that drives unprepared young souls into a brutal world more suitable for jaded adults.
A powerful command of language and a well-researched perspective on nineteenth-century detail enhance the quality of this engaging story. Beninger presents an unfamiliar era with realism, refraining from the common tendency to romanticize history. Often gritty and unpleasant, this was a time when only the toughest spirit endured the onslaught of physical and mental pain. Two fifteen-year-old protagonists, Guinevere Walker and Jack Moylan, propel this intricate plot in countless directions, perhaps too many, in their pursuit of happiness. Defying established convention and resisting social pressure to conform is part of any generation’s awakening, and these mid-nineteenth-century American teenagers are no exception.
Every experience—good and bad—comes across in a vivid, riveting scene that elicits empathy. The many angles this novel presents may render the story a bit vague, its purpose not as explicitly identified as a typical work of commercial fiction written for entertainment only. Sophisticated yet nebulous, the underlying premise remains subject to interpretation instead of making its mark with a blatant statement. Heavy on violence, no veil obstructs the view of atrocious crimes implemented in a big city clearly in the throes of urban decay.
On the opposite end of the ferocious spectrum, learning to fight back is imperative to survival. “Then the antique gun is in my hand, small and uncomfortable, covered in rust and lint. I pull back the hammer and aim.”
A Veil of Fog and Flames is Beninger’s second novel in her Embracing the Elephant series. This talented author’s literary approach brings out the period atmosphere and a near tangible sense of place.
Beninger opens the second book of her Embracing the Elephant series in an 1851 San Francisco in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe: “Where once the vibrant city of San Francisco stood, now a cauterized field stretches to the churning waters of the harbor.” So observes young teenager Guinevere Walker, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a local doctor, who joins her father in trying to save the lives of the many victims of the great fire that’s just swept through the city.
Another fellow victim and survivor is young Jack Moylan, less educated than Guinevere but every bit as enterprising, and gradually Guinevere develops strong romantic feelings for “this boy who spoke his mind and teased me and cast his protective shadow over those he considered his friends.”
The two young people find themselves confronting an Antebellum San Francisco that’s as vibrant as it is violent, as unrefined as it is uninhibited, and under Beninger’s skillful handling, her two characters navigate some harrowing adventures in that sordid new modern world and also navigate their growing feelings for each other. The resulting novel is both exciting and heart-warming, an easy recommendation for fans of the Deadwood era.