Tag Archives: historical fiction

#BookReview ‘My Name is Yip’ by Paddy Crewe #historical

Through the course of his story, Yip Tolroy founds out who he is and who he isn’t. My Name is Yip by Paddy Crewe is a historical novel with a difference, a first person narrative about an extraordinary, ordinary, boy and what he learns about friendship. Paddy CreweYip is 4 ft 8 in tall and unable to speak. His father disappeared on the night of Yip’s birth and so he and his mother muddle along together. He is assumed by everyone who lives in Heron’s Creek to be slow, with no understanding of what is going on around him. But the opposite is true. Yip watches and learns. He is a great observer. He is fifteen when old gentleman Shelby Stubbs recognises Yip’s intelligence, teaches him to read and write and presents him with a portable slate and chalk which Yip uses to communicate. A new world opens up before him but he must find the courage to take the first step.
The voice at first seemed awkward, but by the third or fourth page I knew this was Yip’s own voice and the awkwardness disappeared. Yip has a clear sense of right and wrong, of kindness and cruelty. As a growing child, he sits on a stool beneath a tree outside his mother’s store and watches the world go by. Until events conspire to change his world. Set in Georgia in 1830, gold is discovered near Heron’s Creek, a man disappears and Yip commits a crime. He goes on the run with a newcomer in town, Dud Carter; a man Yip has only seen once before. ‘A tall gangly figure with a crop of hair what the rain had plastered to his short forehead.’ These unlikely companions go on a road trip, with Yip’s constant horse Gussie, facing trials and danger, learning about themselves, each other and the things man is capable of doing to man.
This is an original story with an everyman message about being true to yourself. As Yip says at the end, ‘You got to keep yourself whole & be who it was you was set here to be.’
Very different. Don’t miss it.

If you like this, try:-
Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
At the Edge of the Orchard’ by Tracy Chevalier
Days Without End’ by Sebastian Barry

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
MY NAME IS YIP by Paddy Crewe #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5S4 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘City of Masks’ by @SD_Sykes #historical

It is 1358 and Lord Somershill, Oswald de Lacy, is in Venice with his mother on route to the Holy Land. But Venice is at war with Hungary and the pair are stranded in this city of secrets. City of Masks, third in the Oswald de Lacy medieval mystery series by SD Sykes, sees the young lord investigating the death of a friend. SD SykesVenice is a wonderful setting for Oswald’s detecting. A closed city with its own rules, customs, prejudices and culture, it is a minefield for a stranger seeking information. Oswald relies on acquaintances and new friends for help. But all is not as it seems. Not all deceivers wear a traditional grotesque Venetian mask, some are in full sight. Oswald’s mother continues to be an irritant to him but is full of surprises and there is tension in the house of their hosts, John Bearpark and his young wife, who is due to give birth. As Oswald’s investigations progress, so do strange happenings at the Bearpark house. Plus, Oswald has the feeling he is being followed everywhere he goes. Even to the dangerous military complex, the Arsenale, to the island of lepers and to the gambling dens where he wins, and loses, money.
In this instalment we learn more of Oswald’s inner devils. He is accompanying his mother on this pilgrimage not because he shares her beliefs but because he is running from a bad memory at home. This dark shame within him will not be repressed and as he closes in on the murderer, his thought processes become fickle and his decision-making unreliable. As the days pass, Oswald must solve the murder or an innocent woman will be executed. And Oswald owes money he doesn’t have, money lost at cards, to a thug named Vittore. Venice is portrayed as a repressive, autocratic society with abuse of the poor and infirm. The surface glitters with beautiful houses but beneath, the foundations are rotting. Each island in the lagoon is a separate territory, outsiders are watched, exploited, killed.
Oswald is an impetuous investigator. He assumes possibilities are fact and pursues numerous wild goose chases. He is not an ideal detective. He stumbles on truths and walks straight into danger. He is emotional and naïve. But hidden in his to-ing and fro-ing around Venice and other islands in the Venetian Lagoon, are hints of the real crime, the real culprits. Venice is riddled with deception and Oswald must learn to see beyond the disguises and dissembling, to apply scepticism to everyone and everything around him.

Click the title to read my reviews of the first two books in this series:-

If you like this, try:-
The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey
The Leviathan’ by Rosie Andrews
Dangerous Women’ by Hope Adams

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
CITY OF MASKS by @SD_Sykes #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5RO via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Diamond Eye’ by @KateQuinnAuthor #WW2

What a wonderful book is The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. The fictionalised story of a real Soviet female sniper fighting in what is now Ukraine in the early years of the Second World War, this is a novel I didn’t want to put down. Kate QuinnThe life of Kiev resident Mila Pavlichenko, young mother and history student, changes when the Nazis invade. Already an accomplished shot with a rifle, she leaves her young son Slavka with her mother and goes off to war. In the 18 months of her time on the frontline as a sniper, the real Mila scored 309 official ‘kills’. She is injured fighting in Sevastapol and, once recovered, is ordered to join a diplomatic mission to the USA to persuade the Americans to join the European war. The action in America is probably the most fictionalised part of The Diamond Eye which is based in part on Mila’s memoir. Quinn states in her Author’s Note that parts of the memoir are clearly Mila’s own voice, other entries seem like Soviet propaganda.
This is not just a war story with guns and death and trenches. Quinn tells the story of a young woman, torn from all that is familiar, who finds strength inside herself and with her comrade snipers, to do what must be done. Some of her fellow soldiers have brief times at her side; others, the most skilled snipers, survive. She discovers how difficult it is, when you know you may die tomorrow, to open yourself up to friendship, or love. She acquires a nickname, ‘Lady Death,’ and spurns the frequent attentions of her senior officers. Her girlfriends also volunteer, her estranged husband turns up as a combat surgeon, but there are few light moments in her life. Her primary motivation is to defend her homeland, that is the only thing keeping her away from home. Between missions she gathers leaves and sends them to Slavka, she carries her dissertation with her and takes it from her backpack to read to remember the life she once had. Quinn alternates the dark story of Mila’s fighting, first at Odesa and then at Sevastapol, with her later trip to Washington in 1942 plus excerpts from the diary of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who Mila met on that trip.
This is a shocking story and a compelling one. The sections about sniper technique and tactics are not for the faint-hearted but the current war in Ukraine adds a reality check and there are light-hearted moments in Washington as Mila meets the American press, not alerting her hosts to the fact that she can speak English. Also lightly woven through the fighting sections are snippets of Russian folklore, a reminder that Mila’s country has roots and traditions much older than the Soviet Union.
Quinn creates a heroine we care for. Brave and determined with a sharp edge of sarcasm, this is Mila’s story as imagined by the author. The two parts of the story – the fighting, the subsequent trip to America – are key to the growth of an unusual and exceptional young woman. So what if the final section lurches into ‘thriller’ territory, it made the pages turn even faster.
Highly recommended.

And here’s my review of THE ROSE CODE, another WW2 thriller by Kate Quinn.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden [#1 Winternight trilogy]
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst
Corpus’ by Rory Clements [#1 Tom Wilde series]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DIAMOND EYE by @KateQuinnAuthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5QW via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Drowned City’ by KJ Maitland #historical #crime

The Drowned City by KJ Maitland is first in the Daniel Pursglove historical crime series. Maitland is a new author for me and the premise is fascinating. After the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, King James I is nervous of Catholic rebellion. Pursglove is plucked from prison and offered amnesty if he tracks down an elusive Catholic conspirator, Spero Pottingar, believed to be in Bristol. While there, Daniel must also prove if the recent deadly Bristol flood was a natural disaster or witchcraft. KJ MaitlandI enjoyed the Jacobean setting, unusual in historical crime novels, but found it slow to get going. Daniel’s introduction – we first meet him imprisoned in Newgate – is negative. Why he’s imprisoned isn’t explained, nor do we learn about his life prior to being locked up. But we do know he’s a magician and this sleight of hand proves useful as the story unfolds. I finished the book with no clear idea who Daniel Pursglove is.
The description of the Bristol flooding – a true event – is well done, visceral and moving. Death, destruction, disease, loss of livelihood. Maitland doesn’t spare the reader in her descriptions of violence and rotting corpses. People simply disappeared – drowned, safely embarked on a ship before the flood, or slipped away to start afresh somewhere new. Daniel has no idea if Pottingar is a real person or an invention. He may be in Bristol, have fled, or never been there at all. This gives wonderful opportunities for fictional twists and turns and when the twist came at the end, I was surprised.
The Drowned City is steeped in historical detail but at the expense of plot and character development, possibly because this is the first in the series. More is sure to be unveiled in further books but as the first book, this failed to keep me interested. Daniel’s reason for being in Bristol got lost at times in detailed description and the convoluted factions, with so many clues and red herrings that I got lost and the tension left the page. The middle section was particularly slow.
So, not a page-turner for me but if you like dense historical crime mysteries it may suit you.

If you like this, try:-
Winter Pilgrims’ by Toby Clements
Cecily’ by Annie Garthwaite
The Silver Wolf’ by JC Harvey

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THE DROWNED CITY by KJ Maitland #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5QM via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Duchess’ by @Wendy_Holden #historical

The Duchess by Wendy Holden turned out to be a surprising read. After all, we all know the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, don’t we? I started the book half-expecting not to finish it, unsure whether I could empathise with Wallis Simpson. But having read Wendy Holden’s first novel – Simply Divine, published in 1999 – and many since, I was curious about her subject matter. I finished it wanting to go back to the beginning again, reading it with fresh eyes. Wendy HoldenHolden, a former journalist, has done her research to portray the middle-aged American divorcee. Wallis arrives in London in 1928 with her second husband Ernest, determined to be a part of the party scene. Scrimping and saving, and with the quick mind and equally quick tongue of her mother, she learns to deal with the snubs, putdowns, cold shoulders and snobbishness, all the time backed by her steady husband. After a difficult childhood raised alone by her mother without much money, followed by an abusive first marriage, Wallis now reads the Court Circulars and newspaper stories about the parties of the Bright Young Things and longs to have fun. But she hadn’t bargained on the British class system. With her own sense of chic and by altering cheap dresses herself, Wallis catches the eye of Coco Chanel who offers some salutary advice.
The dual timeline, always from Wallis’s viewpoint, alternates between the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972, and Wallis’s life in England from 1928-1936. After a lot of hustling, scrimping, spending money they don’t have, the Simpsons meet the Prince of Wales and are invited to his home at Fort Belvedere, Windsor, for the weekend. There we see the divisions between the prince’s public role and private political views. Holden juxtaposes the freedom and ‘what if’ American approach to life with the stuffy 1930s British ‘not possible’ view. This culminates finally in the Abdication. The final twist is intriguing.
The first few pages are a slow read and felt more like a historical record – there is a lot of emotional and historical baggage wrapped up in this story – but the story gets going once Wallis is in London. She struggles to be accepted, hosting cocktail ‘open evenings’ that no one attends, always being sparkling and entertaining despite Ernest’s misgivings. We see her vulnerabilities as the difficulties of her childhood, and her first marriage, are revealed. I finished the book with new-found respect for Ernest Simpson.
I read The Duchess in two days on holiday. Compulsive, wicked, sad and funny, I was left with a feeling of regret about the Windsors, and for Ernest, though with the obvious footnote that this is a fictional account not a biography. Even taken with a large pinch of salt, I came to empathise with Wallis; simultaneously head over heels in love but also exasperated, despairing, trapped, powerless, lonely and maligned.
Definitely food for thought. A compulsive fictional take on royal history

If you like this, try:-
The Glass House’ by Eve Chase
The Orphan’s Gift’ by Renita D’Silva
The Cottingley Secret’ by Hazel Gaynor

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE DUCHESS by @Wendy_Holden #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Qe via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Moonlight & the Pearler’s Daughter’ by @LizziePook

Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter, the debut historical mystery by Lizzie Pook, is a surprise, full of twists and turns with a determined female lead character who defies 19th century conventions to find the murderer of her father.
The gritty, sometimes disgusting descriptions of the pearler’s living conditions are vivid and not for the faint-hearted. Set in an 1896 at Bannin Bay, a poor Australian pearl fishing settlement on the edge of the coast, the settlers are surrounded by indigenous people and their lands. When her father’s pearling lugger, the White Starling, returns from a long sea trip without him, Eliza Brightwell is told her father Charles disappeared from his boat overnight and is assumed drowned. Her brother Thomas, under pressure to keep the family business out debt, departs immediately to the nearby town of Cossack to sell his catch to traders. Alone, Eliza refuses to accept her father is dead but when she asks questions, is advised to accept the inevitable.Lizzie PookThis is a raw town of crime, racism, jealousy, blackmail and abuse. A detailed examination of the available facts, and a mysterious note she finds in her father’s diary, lead Eliza to places she cannot go. Fettered by conventions of the time, Eliza soon realises she needs a male companion to enter the disreputable parts of town. An outsider herself she chooses another outsider, German itinerant worker Axel Kramer, to help her. He can gain admittance to places where she should not be seen or is barred from entering. Alternating with Eliza’s investigations are two other passages – the hunt for Aboriginal crewman Balarri who is automatically assumed guilty of murder, and passages from her father’s diary in which he writes nature observations and notes about his pearl shelling business.
The murder story takes place in 1896 but we also see flashbacks ten years earlier to 1886 when the Brightwell family – Eliza, her parents and brother, plus Uncle Willem and Aunt Martha – arrive in Bannin Bay from England, planning to become wealthy fishers of pearl shell. Pook places clues everywhere so don’t ignore these shorter sections.
I didn’t settle into this story until the second half. The first part establishes the setting – the village of Bannin Bay – with such gritty realism that the descriptions of the climate, mould, insects, smells and unpleasant people dominated everything else. There are also intricate descriptions of the industry of pearl fishing. This meant I was slow to connect with Eliza, other than that she is unconventional. But when she and Axel take a lugger to search the remote islands beyond Bannin Bay, to the Lucettes, Cockatoos, Rosellas and Nevermores, the story becomes more dynamic. Moving the action away from smelly Bannin adds air to story and removes conventions from Eliza and Axel. Knife, their young crewman, is also an intriguing character who is under-used.
This is a complex and ambitious story for a debut and Pook is an author worth watching. It’s a pity that at times the story felt weighed down by Australian history and the treatment of the indigenous population. The book is clearly founded on solid historical research but at times it felt that the pace of the story and the characterisation suffered in need of a lighter hand with research.

If you like this, try:-
Rush Oh!’ by Shirley Barrett
The Pearl Sister’ by Lucinda Riley
The Night Child’ by Anna Quinn

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
MOONLIGHT AND THE PEARLER’S DAUGHTER by @LizziePook #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Q6 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Shrines of Gaiety’ by Kate Atkinson #literary 

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is a sparkling portrayal of London in the 1920s, a heady mixture of madly-themed nightclubs, teenage runaways and the Bright Young Things. It is 1926 and the generation most damaged by the War to End All Wars is dancing to forget. But 1920s London is not as glittering it seems. Though the nightclubs sparkle by night, they are dank and dowdy in daylight. London has a dark, dangerous underbelly. Kate AtkinsonWhen veteran gangland boss Ma Coker is released from Holloway prison, a train of events is set in place. Her six children jostle for her attention, approval and power. The police at Bow Street station are either in her pay or are trying to convict her. Meanwhile, others are plotting the takeover of her rich kingdom – the five nightclubs the Amethyst, the Sphinx, the Crystal Cup, the Pixie and the Foxhole. Each is carefully targetted at specific clientele, each is managed by one of her five eldest children. The Amethyst is the jewel in the crown but Nellie, post-prison, is acting oddly and has taken to sitting alone in the immaculate, unoccupied, pink-decorated flat above the Cup. Is she losing it?
Two young women arrive in the closed world of the Coker family and will change things forever. Fourteen-year-old Freda Murgatroyd has run away from York with her bovine friend Florence, desperate to dance on the stage in London. Gwendolen Kelling, a former librarian and also from York, follows them to London with the aim of returning them to their families. Though Gwendolen’s tweed skirt and plain cardigan may suggest timidity, she is not what she seems.
What a wonderful read this is, this hybrid part-historical, part-literary, part-mystery novel. Atkinson juggles a huge cast and given this it takes a while to settle into the story, but as the pages turn the parties become more hysterical and people begin to die. There are three main viewpoints – Nellie Coker, Gwendolen and Freda – supplemented by Inspector John Frobisher and Nellie’s three eldest children Edith, Niven and Ramsay. But always Atkinson reminds us of the dark side. The Bright Young Things dazzle at the beginning of the evening in beautiful extravagant costumes, but their syringes and drugs become visible at twilight. Meanwhile, Nellie seems to be losing her iron grip on the clubs. When Gwendolen is recruited by Frobisher to visit the Amethyst undercover one night, with a policeman as her dance partner, things spin out of control. There is no sign of Flora or Florence, Gwendolen’s dance partner disappears, a fight breaks out and her beautiful dress from Liberty is covered in blood. The identity of her saviour is unexpected.
The story has been described as Dickensian and I can see why. Atkinson never wastes a sentence and, with a sure hand, she directs this complicated plot full of richly-drawn characters, criminal gangs, two-faced policemen and blotto partygoers. The historical detail stretches from the richest to the poorest, plus there’s a touch of romance and plenty of wry and witty anecdotes to make you chuckle. Some of the minor characters are classics to delight in, particularly Vanda and Duncan aka The Knits.

Click the title to read my reviews of these other books by Kate Atkinson:-
BIG SKY [Jackson Brodie #5]

If you like this, try:-
‘Fatal Inheritance’ by Rachel Rhys
Freya’ by Anthony Quinn
The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard [Cazalet Chronicles #1]

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SHRINES OF GAIETY by Kate Atkinson #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5PO via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘One Moonlit Night’ by @Rachelhore #WW2

Life can turn on a sixpence and that’s what happens to Maddie and her two small daughters in the Blitz. One Moonlit Night by Rachel Hore doesn’t start with a glimpse of the main character’s ordinary life before the change happens. It starts with a shock… a family made homeless by a bomb. Rachel HoreAlone in the midst of chaos, her husband Philip has been missing for ten months since the British army’s retreat from Dunkirk, Maddie takes Sarah and Alice to Knyghton in Norfolk to stay with Philip’s elderly Aunt Gussie. Maddie is caught in limbo, unable to grieve for Philip, unable to make decisions, not accepting his probable death, while living in an isolated country house – where Philip spent his childhood – which is the focus of long-held rumour and superstition in the nearby village.
Trying to make a living as a book illustrator, Maddie is seldom without a pencil and paper. But when she draws the face of an unfamiliar young girl, enigmatic, mysterious, she doesn’t know where her inspiration came from. Instinctively she keeps her drawing secret, not wanting to upset the fragile atmosphere at Knyghton. A secret is being kept, by Aunt Gussie, Philip’s cousin Lyle who runs the Knyghton farm, by family retainers, the Fleggs, and Maddie is sure it surrounds this mysterious young woman.
Bookended by a Prologue and Epilogue both set in 1977, Hore tells the stories of Maddie and Philip during World War Two with a flashback to their meeting in 1934. Many of the book’s themes are established in this pre-war section. Wild animals, painted by Maddie, but shot by Philip; children raised while parents are absent; the sharing of some secrets and the keeping of others. It is a complex, emotional story as Maddie, who flees to Knyghton seeking sanctuary instead finds unexplained silences, whispers and rumours she fears are aimed at Philip. Meanwhile Philip, having survived a massacre of British troops by the German army, attempts to find a way home. Philip’s sections are tense, forlorn and at times hopeless, a vivid portrayal of soldiers fleeing through Occupied and Vichy France.
This is a slow-burning story which rewards the reader’s perseverance as tension in the final third picks up and Maddie finally finds some answers. It’s a book which rewards further reading as layers of information, missed on first reading, become significant.

Click the title to read my reviews of two other books by Rachel Hore:-

If you like this, try:-
‘The Book of Lies’ by Mary Horlock
The Tuscan Secret’ by Angela Petch
The Skylark’s Secret’ by Fiona Valpy

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
ONE MOONLIT NIGHT by @Rachelhore #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5PJ via @SandraDanby

#Books ‘This is the Night They Come for You’ by Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard is a thriller writer with a particular skill at writing mysteries where the past remains entangled with today. This is the Night They Come for You features Algerian police Superintendent Mouloud Taleb; believable, likeable, he’s the type of character you instantly root for. Robert GoddardThe story starts today in Algiers as Taleb, sweating in his dingy un-air-conditioned office, considers approaching retirement. But when Wassim Zarbi, a former agent convicted of corruption, is released from prison and then disappears, it is feared he is reuniting with old colleague Nadir Laloul. Events in Paris in 1961 come alive again and Taleb is pulled into the dangerous search for Laloul, Zarbi and the truth of a cold case murder. The history and peoples of Algeria and France are entwined and Goddard puts at the heart of his story a shadowy organisation in Algeria named ‘hizb franca’, the ‘party of France’, dedicated to undermining the success of the fledgling Algerian republic. A small practical note, it would have been helpful to have the Glossary at the front of the Kindle edition rather than at the back. And, for a novice at Algerian politics as I am, a short historical context would also be useful. As a character in the book says, ‘No one learns anything from history in Algeria. They just keep repeating it in ever more exaggerated forms.’
There are two strands to the story and I admit to temporary confusion about who is who, on which side, in the first half of the book. But Goddard portrays a situation and politics disrupted, with truths sewn together by deception. I trusted Goddard to make it all clear, and he does. The various allegiances become aligned as the story progresses, until the twists occur.
Taleb finds himself assigned to work with Souad Hidouchi, an agent from the Algerian secret service. Neither trusts the other, unsure of their unstated objectives. It is a delight to watch the development of their relationship, their suspicions, the small details of friendship, the willingness to take a risk on placing trust. In comparison, the second strand featuring Stephen Gray and Suzette Fontaine, is less dynamic. Stephen has dedicated his life to uncovering the truth about his sister Harriet who disappeared in Paris in 1961. Suzette meanwhile has received a strange call from a Swiss solicitor. A document, claimed to be a memoir written in Algeria by her bookseller father, Nigel Dalby, tells the truth of what happened in Paris in 1961.
As Goddard alternates the viewpoints with excerpts from Dalby’s typewritten manuscript, at times the reader knows more than the characters. But the characters are not all telling the truth, motivations and secrets are hidden, and Goddard juggles the tensions and unveilings like a master.
A thoroughly enjoyable historical thriller. Knowing little of Algerian politics, it’s so good to read fiction that makes me turn the pages while teaching me something new. A small design note, I hated the cover which trivialises the subject matter of the novel and is befitting a young adult title.

Read my reviews of Goddard’s other books:-
Panic Room
The Fine Art of Invisible Detection
The Ways of the World #1 The Wide World Trilogy
The Corners of the Globe #2 The Wide World Trilogy
The Ends of the Earth #3 The Wide World Trilogy

If you like this, try:-
Waiting for Sunrise’ by William Boyd
The Museum of Broken Promises’ by Elizabeth Buchan
Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
THIS IS THE NIGHT THEY COME FOR YOU by Robert Goddard #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Pq via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Leviathan’ by @rosieandrews22 #historical 

Soldier Thomas Treadwater returns home on leave from the army, summoned to Norfolk by a pleading letter from his sister Esther. ‘Our home is under attack by a great and ungodly evil’, she writes. The Leviathan by Rosie Andrews is a tale of religious extremism and intolerance, fear of witches, superstition and the power of evil. The atmosphere at all times is full of foreboding. As Thomas approaches his father’s farm at dawn, he sees dead animals in the field. Rosie Andrews This is 17th century Norfolk when England is riven by civil war. The story of Thomas and Esther, narrated by Thomas in two timelines – 1643 and 1703 – is ultimately a slow one. The beginning is excellent, ‘She is awake,’ and moves quickly as Thomas investigates the strange goings-on. When this moves from witchcraft to theology and the meaning of evil, the pace slows. The explanation of the title is remarkably late in arriving and I was distracted by trying to fit ‘the leviathan’ into the domestic story of the Treadwater family.
According to Esther, their religious father has been corrupted by their servant Chrissa Moore who is with child. Richard Treadwater is now insensible after suffering a stroke and cannot explain. Chrissa, since accused of witchcraft and imprisoned, denies she is pregnant. When Esther must give evidence in front of the Justice of the Peace, Sir Christopher Manyon, and his assistant John Rutherford, Thomas realises Esther herself may be charged as a deviant. Struggling to understand what is happening, he turns to his former tutor John Milton, for help. It was only after finishing The Leviathan that I made the connection with the real poet and author of Paradise Lost.
Steeped in historical detail and the superstitions of the time, the early mystery of the unexplained deaths and the accusations of witchcraft are well written but this momentum is lost as the story transitions to one about possession and evil. All of it is a metaphor for the cruel and intolerant acts of war when sensible men behave without reason.
I struggled for an emotional connection to the story and wonder if a second viewpoint – perhaps of Mary – may help, also sharper transitions between the three phases of story which seem oddly disconnected. But the early passage of Thomas walking home with his horse Ben is particularly lovely. I finished it not knowing what to think, wanting to like it more, in awe of the scope of subject matter and the intensity of writing.

If you like this, try:-
The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey
The Witchfinder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown
Rush Oh!’ by Shirley Barrett

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LEVIATHAN by @rosieandrews22 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5OQ via @SandraDanby