By Hannah Evans
The phrase “fire season” is increasingly one on the minds of those living in western states— every summer the time it describes seems to last longer and pose more of a threat than the previous year.
Leyna Krow’s debut novel of this name (2022, Penguin Random House) focuses on another trope of the west, however—the con artist, schemer, and opportunist with a wide variety of motivations. Krow’s “Fire Season,” set mostly in the late 1800s as Washington looks to gain U.S. statehood, is composed of three parts.
The first section follows Barton Heydale, an incredibly unlikeable banker in the small town of Spokane Falls who seizes the opportunity to vengefully steal money unnoticed after a fire destroys much of the community. Part two focuses on Quake Auchenbaucher, a con man from out of town who visits Spokane Falls under the false pretense of investigating the cause of the recent fire. “Fire Season” concludes with Roslyn Beck, a “certain kind of woman” who struggles with alcoholism as a means to cope with mysterious supernatural visions of disaster.
Barton and Quake prove themselves to be entirely self-motivated—Barton from an obsessive desire for vengeance, Quake from a means of individualistic self-preservation that lacks any and all guilt or feeling regarding others. Roslyn, however, is a more complicated and interesting character.
A sex worker who has spent much of her time before Spokane Fall’s fire drunk on “mud drink,” Roslyn steals and breaks hearts, but not with the same selfishness of her male counterparts. Struggling with guilt, aimlessness, loneliness, and a lack of power as well as a lack of understanding of her otherworldly talents, Roslyn is compelled to help those around her, but must find out what that even looks like amongst the lawlessness of the West.
Following the actions of Roslyn, Barton, and Quake by and large, “Fire Season” takes a few quick diversions into short antidotes featuring other “certain kind of women” and their abilities, driving home an exploration of what motivates one’s behavior in a world that ignores them at best and pushes them out with fear and violence at worst.
Roslyn may be an opportunist like Barton and Quake, but she’s also searching for her place in a broader world that can either chew her up and spit her out or ultimately welcome and appreciate her unique abilities within it. Check out “Fire Season” at your closest Denver Public Library location or as an e-book or e-audiobook on denverlibrary.org.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.