In England in the year 1604 teenager Thomas Fawkes is preparing to take the test that will determine his source of color power while also anxiously waiting to receive his hand-crafted mask from his father, Guy–both events that will mark his transition to his final year at St. Peter’s Color School. His anxiety is heightened by the fact that he hasn’t seen his father since he was a very small child and also by the fact that he is a victim of the Stone Plague which has been in remission since infecting one of his eyes and rendering it as useless as concrete. Fearing that the plague will resume its course at any time, Thomas has hopes that his color power and his father will be able to help him fight this scary future he sees before him.
Nothing, of course, happens as he expects. At the Color Test ceremony, his dad doesn’t show. Because he doesn’t receive a mask from the one person who could craft it for him, he is kicked out of the school and sent on his way, penniless and shunned. Making his way to London in hopes of tracking down his dad, he is captured and imprisoned by the sheriff and faces sure death by hanging until he manages to escape by listening to the White Light–a big NO NO because he is a Keeper (one of those who focus on one color power per person) rather than an Igniter (one of those who follows the White Light). The Keepers and the Igniters are at war with each other, and King James II is at the head of the conflict. Keepers think the king brought the plague with him when he assumed the throne and Igniters are trying to round up and kill as many Keepers as they can to protect their king.
Enter Thomas’s dad, the famous Guy Fawkes, who brings his son into the Gunpowder Plot as a conspirator. The closer the date gets to blowing up the Parliament with its 300 members and the King inside, the more unsure Thomas becomes about the reasoning behind the plot and the path he must take. A friendship/burgeoning romance with a beautiful Igniter (who happens to have totally disguised the fact that she is African through the use of powder and her mask–WHAT?) further complicates things.
This is a really imaginative reinvention of the Guy Fawkes/Gunpowder Plot story, full of magic as well as pithy commentary on feminism, racism, political intolerance, and the power of an individual to change. There is some swashbuckling violence but there is nothing else objectionable in the book. Descriptions of 17th-century London are just terrific. Except for the silly way the White Light converses with Thomas, the writing style is lovely. Young adults who like historical fiction will go for this one.