Fighting the Flames

by R. M. Ballantyne
399 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Nienna

Very good, edifying read, but some non-descriptive violent content.


There are approximately four fires in London every night during the 1850s, and the only people to combat them were the undermanned but courageous firemen. To Willie Willders, there could be no greater hero, and it is his greatest desire to join their forces, though his fireman brother Frank (or "Blazes" as Willie calls him) tells him his excitable nature would not make him a good fireman. This is the story of these characters, and others, in their brave battles with the forces of flame.


Very good. Courage, adherence to duty, loving one's neighbor, and not being prejudiced are all highly valued. Those who serve God and those who don't are contrasted, greatly in favor of the former. Willie is rather disrespectful and a trifle unkind in the beginning (he hates bobbies), but he has high ideals and matures into a godly young man. Some characters are very prejudiced and sinfully proud, but this is shown as wrong.

Spiritual Content

The main characters are Christians and sometimes turn to the Bible and God for comfort and guidance. One character believes in ghosts and believes he hears them sometimes, but everything is shown to be quite natural and the impression is given that ghosts are nonexistent.


Many, many house fires. The firemen have close brushes with death several times. A girl dies from sickness. A main character breaks some bones and gets badly burned. A man purposefully sets a house on fire; he also tries to murder someone by poison, and later commits suicide. Another man almost goes insane. In a huge fire, many firemen die or are drowned, dozens of buildings and boats are burned. Many people are burned to death or drowned. Though some of this is very sad, it is very, very nondescriptive. Ballantyne just states the fact, such as, "Some people fell off the bridge and drowned."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Most of the characters drink wine on occasion, and a few minor characters are very excessive but that is very strongly condemned and the book shows what ruination drunkenness brings. Poison and laudanum are mentioned and used once.

Sexual Content

A few older ladies are scantily clad when rescued from house fires, but the firemen who carry them out throw blankets around them first. Two main characters get married.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

A man invents a machine which he says will turn any animal into sausage. This involves putting the animal, still alive, into it to be killed and ground up, hair, bones, and all. He never uses it though and doesn't get descriptive about it.


This book is not one single story, but rather several minor plots woven into one book to give a wonderful picture of the life of London and particularly the London Fire Brigade. Many of the stories of the heroism, courage, and courtesy of the firemen and other related people brought tears to my eyes, and it is well-written so we can understand the great trials and difficulties, without it being too graphic. With so much death and violence essential to the story, I really appreciated that each of these events are merely stated, without any details or intensity. I highly recommend it to teens and older who won't be too bothered by the violence.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 5
Written for Age: 13+

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