REVIEW: The Pool of Fire (The Tripods Book 3) (1968)

A book by John Christopher

Continuing from my last two reviews, I have finally come to the final book in the Tripods trilogy, The Pool of Fire, as written by John Christopher in the late 1960’s. There is, actually, one more book that was written in the late 1980’s (that I believe is a prequel) that I will be reading sometime in the near future as well. When we last left Will and his friends, Will had narrowly escaped the heart of the European Tripod City, but at seemingly a huge cost – the life on one of his friends. Fearing the worst for his co-collaborator, Fritz, Will had to survive to ensure their infiltration plan wasn’t a bust. Now armed with extensive knowledge of the inner workings of “The Masters”, their weaknesses and their society, the next wave of the rebellion is heating up.

“Will must defeat the Tripods once and for all in this third book of a classic alien trilogy ideal for fans of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series. After being held captive in the City of Gold and Lead—the capital, where the creatures that control the mechanical, monstrous Tripods live—Will believes that he’s learned everything he needs to know to destroy them. He has discovered the source of their power, and with this new knowledge, Will and his friends plan to return to the City of Gold and Lead to take down the Masters once and for all. Although Will and his friends have planned everything down to the minute, the Masters still have surprises in store. And with the Masters’ plan to destroy Earth completely, Will may have just started the war that will end it all.”

We never got to see a third season of the BBC television show based on these books, and I wonder what that would have been like? The main reason I ask is that this book has a lot of the story in the second act in an expositionary form i.e. Will is explaining how he went around creating sleeper cells for uncapped youths to eventually help in the rebellion. In the book, I am actually glad this was not realized by way of a point by point narrative as that would have stalled the story to an absolute crawl. Imagine chapter after chapter of Will meeting people, telling them the plan, then moving on, probably escaping a random Blackguard here or there.

I fear that the TV show would have used this as padding, as they did in the first series. If one recalls, there is a throwaway paragraph about a chateau in the first book, somehow that was turned into 3 long episodes of the show where not much happens, I fear BBC would have followed this model to mind-numbing results with the above example. speaking of the show, I can see why the show was likely cancelled, as the finale of this book is VERY epic, and would have likely led to an incredible budget issue if realized correctly, or alterations to the story. It’s sadly one of the big what-if questions of this sort of content.

Because of this rapid-fire second act, this book is very quick-paced and exciting, perhaps the most action-packed of the three main novels. I absolutely devoured this book, finishing it in one sitting because I could not wait to see what happened next. good news is, this was no amazing feat as most readers can finish this pretty fast – perhaps 2-4 hours depending on reading speed. It has a satisfying ending, and is conclusive – meaning we aren’t left on a vague cliffhanger wherein we wonder if the aliens return for revenge or anything. We do see seeds of the boys’ future roles in society post-occupation, and it looks like an uphill battle every bit as rough as the invasion itself. One cannot stop human nature, or so it seems.

I was happy to see Henry back in the fold in this book, however brief his appearance was. Henry is kind of a jerk in the books, while he is more sympathetic in the TV show, thus leading me to like him when I was likely not supposed to. It was hard to shake my “theater of the mind” using the actors from the series when this was playing out since I watched the first series long before I cracked any book open. I honestly missed him in the second book, but can see why he was set-aside due to not wanting any of the main boys to get beat up and possibly killed. Fritz (his replacement, basically) was initially hard to get used to, but honestly he is a better character in the long-run. This book is somewhat of a “redemption” for Henry, because he acted almost as a foil to Will at various points in the story. He has matured, grown up, and no longer wants to act on sheer impulse and jealousy as before. He also saves the day at the end, something he wanted to do from the beginning, but always felt as if he was in Will’s shadow.

Looking back at the entire trilogy, One could accuse Christopher of a couple of definite faux pas that would sink a book in the modern time, but were likely common, even mandated things, in the late 1960s. I’ve seen discussion on the fact of the troubling lack of female characters that do much of anything in the story, and how that was a condition of 1960’s book publishers. Aside from Eloise, who basically exists as a way for Will to get “called to action”, most other women are just set dressings. Even she is a mere plot device rather than a fully-realized character in a lot of ways. The question is, why did this happen? Surely there is a reason.

The Podcast, Tripodscast (that just came to my attention recently, thanks all that reached out!) had an astute observation that I did not think of: in the 1960’s it was understood that “girls would read stories about boys, but boys would not read stories about girls”. Whether or not that was true is up for debate, but it’s the sort of misguided backroom suit-talk that I could definitely imagine going on in a cigar smoke-filled publishing house. Seeing that Christopher was made to change stuff in his original version of the story, it makes me wonder if any of that was part of the trade off. The book also has some uncomfortable dialogue when discussing Asian people that isn’t full-on racist, but would get a lot of side-eye if published now. One can clearly see that none of these issues are the sort of malicious plot devices one sometimes sees in a science fiction book, and just an unfortunate relic of the time the author lived in.

I spoke of the legacy of this series in my review for the second book, The City of Gold and Lead, and mentioned that I personally felt that most modern dystopian/science fiction young reader/young adult books owe a lot to John Christopher for the structure and ideas found in this series. Yes, it’s basically your typical boy’s adventure story, but adding the post-apocalyptic setting and the notion that even a young teenager could do something so huge as to completely unravel an evil conspiracy is pretty extraordinary. In the last twenty years the market is flooded with books like this – The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner etc. Perhaps one day, The Tripods will get it’s due outside of the UK, as most in the US don’t know anything about it.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and felt it was a fine ending to the story. It’s a quick read and will keep anyone’s attention considering the break-neck speed of the second half. If you are a fan of the BBC series, you absolutely MUST read this to finish the story, but any fan of Young Adult dystopian novels would love this as well. This series has made me want to check out more books by the author (let me know what’s good in the comments), as these sort of quick science fiction novels are perfect to help me cleanse my palette after reading a long, dry history book. Stay tuned for more reviews from the TV series in the coming weeks and the fourth Tripods book in the future.

To read my reviews for the other books and the TV show, Click HERE

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