Title: The Crimson Thread
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 5th July 2022
Synopsis: Set in Crete during World War II, Alenka, a young woman who fights with the resistance against the brutal Nazi occupation finds herself caught between her traitor of a brother and the man she loves, an undercover agent working for the Allies.
May 1941. German paratroopers launch a blitzkrieg from the air against Crete. They are met with fierce defiance, the Greeks fighting back with daggers, pitchforks and kitchen knives. During the bloody eleven-day battle, Alenka, a young Greek woman, saves the lives of two Australian soldiers.
Jack and Teddy are childhood friends who joined up together to see the world. Both men fall in love with Alenka. They are forced to retreat with the tattered remains of the Allied forces over the towering White Mountains. Both are among the 7000 Allied soldiers left behind in the desperate evacuation from Crete’s storm-lashed southern coast.
Alenka hides Jack and Teddy at great risk to herself. Her brother Axel is a Nazi sympathiser
and collaborator, and spies on her movements.
As Crete suffers under the Nazi jackboot, Alenka is drawn into an intense triangle of conflicting emotions with Jack and Teddy. Their friendship suffers under the strain of months of hiding and their rivalry for her love. Together, they join the resistance and fight to free the island, but all three will find themselves tested to their limits. Alenka must choose whom to trust and whom to love and, in the end, whom to save.
Whenever I hear that there is a new Kate Forsyth coming out, I get excited and watch her updates on social media, eagerly awaiting the finished product, and then, waiting to either get a review copy, pre-order, or buy it as soon as I see it on the shelf. This year, our offering is The Crimson Thread. The Crimson Thread is another story of resistance against the Nazis – but rather than being set in Nazi Germany as The Beast’s Garden is, this one is set in Crete, and is centred around the Battle of Crete in 1941 and goes through the years of Nazi occupation following the eleven-day battle.
The story centres around Alenka, whose family is directly impacted. Her mother, Hesper, does not speak and is closed to the world as she works at the Hotel Ariadne, which once hosted British archaeologists. Now, it has been taken over by the Nazis. Alenka is also grappling with her brother, whose father is German. Axel is enamoured with the Nazis, whom he sees as his kin, his people. Alenka is the one trying to hold the family together when she meets two Australian soldiers stationed on Crete during the battle – Jack and Teddy. Jack is gentle, and has a stutter, whilst Teddy is confident and forward, and assumes things about people around him. As Alenka hides them and they join the resistance in different ways, Teddy, and Jack fall in love with her. I loved that this plot was given equal attention to everything else, as it made the story well-rounded, and I think made it more realistic when it came to developing the relationship we get at the end.
I loved Jack – I think he and Alenka were my favourite characters, because they could be themselves with each other, they shared common interests, and they also taught each other things. They reminded me a bit of Mary and Colin in The Secret Garden – the two isolated children who wanted to be loved and find a friend and a way out of their loneliness, and I think this is what made their relationship so important to me. It started off as gentle and respectful, and it was allowed to grow and evolve naturally. Whereas I found Teddy more brash – he was an interesting character, and in contrast to Axel, a better hero. Yet he did give things an unsettling feeling at times, which gave the novel some of the great tension that drove some of the more emotive moments, especially in the more dramatic moments in battles, for example.
The novel’s setting uses Greek mythology, in particular the story of the minotaur, King Minos, Ariadne, Theseus, Dedalus and Icarus – and their various myths and myth cycle, and its links to Crete, Knossos and the Minoans, and the labyrinth that the minotaur was said to dwell in. It is something I studied in high school and at university, so I recognised a lot of the ancient history and mythology used. Kate did an exceptional job at taking this story and the idea of mazes and labyrinths, poetry, and music, and creating an evocative story around a battle in World War Two that I had not previously come across. Using a battle in a different country shows that the Nazis and war was so far reaching and illustrates how many people resisted the Nazis across Europe and in different ways. There was one scene towards the end that was utterly heartbreaking and shocking – an act of complete brutality that coincided with acts of betrayal and sacrifice in a small family that felt fractured.
Kate has pulled so much together – the myths, the history, the tragedy, the stories of people who existed and sewn them together with her fictional characters. She also brings codes into it – and the most prominent example of codes are used by Jack and Alenka, and it is such an effective section of the novel. Kate’s words and imagery are so effective – she has embroidered the story as though it has been stitched carefully onto fabric and brought it to life. Her words dance and sing, and create images that play out beautifully, whilst exploring a tragic time in history. Her characters go through so much, yet they always have hope. And it is that hope that drives so many of Kate’s stories, as it does for Jack, Teddy, and Alenka in The Crimson Thread. I loved that Alenka did not just give up – she found ways to help, to resist, and knew when to ask for help. It showed that all the characters had flaws and challenges they had to find ways to work with or overcome – which was different for each character. It worked so well.
I also loved that everyone involved in the resistance was able to use their talents in a different way, especially Jack and Alenka, who used the power of language and codes to help drive the Nazis out of Crete as the resistance fought the invaders. It is the kind of novel that shows one of the many Second World War stories as well, and the many stories and battles that we may not know about or know as much about in comparison to battles that get more attention in some places. The examination of war and identity, and what it drives people to do is emotive and at times shocking – there was one character whom I felt a little scared of at one point.
Jack’s connection to poetry, words, and music was beautiful – it showed that these things have more power than some people around him thought, and I think it made Jack a truly special character who is a favourite. He was traditional but respectful of who people were, and I loved that about him. Each Kate Forsyth book is a unique story, but also a great comfort. I always know I’m going to get a fantastic story with her books, and The Crimson Thread did not fail to disappoint. I cannot wait to see what Kate Forsyth has for us next.