The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1) by Jessica Fellowes

mitford 1.jpgTitle: The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)

Author: Jessica Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Sphere

Published: 12th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 422

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A Golden Age-style mystery bursting with period detail and set amid the Mitford household, THE MITFORD MURDERS is the glittering start to a thrilling and sumptuous new series written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the number one bestselling Downton Abbey books.

‘A lively, well-written, entertaining whodunit’ THE TIMES

***You can now preorder Bright Young Dead, the thrilling second book in The Mitford Murders series*** Lose yourself in the sumptuous first novel in a new series of Golden Age mysteries set amid the lives of the glamorous Mitford sisters.

It’s 1919, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London, and most of all her oppressive and dangerous uncle.

Louisa’s salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nurserymaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy – an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But when a nurse – Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake – is killed on a train in broad daylight, Nancy and amateur sleuth Louisa find that in postwar England, everyone has something to hide . . .

~*~

The first in what I am sure will be a gripping and enthralling series, The Mitford Murders takes place in 1919-1921, the years immediately following the end of World War One, with soldiers and nurses still returning from the front and various theatres of war. During late December 1919, Louisa Cannon has escaped London, and her uncle. She’s on her way to take up the position of nursery maid in the Mitford household at Asthall Manor – but an incident on the train she’s one delays her. This incident delays her arrival – and almost jeopardises her job, had it not been for the oldest Mitford daughter, Nancy’s intervention and excitement at a confidant other than her younger sisters and brother. As Nancy and Louisa become friends, they become involved in the murder investigation – helping a police officer – Guy – find out what happened and who the killer was, and looking into people who are not quite who they say they are, introducing another mystery to the story as Louisa does her best to protect Nancy and remain her friend amidst the societal conventions they must live and work within.

These side characters add flavour to the novel, and the premise of the novel, the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore on the train heading towards Sussex that Louisa was on, is based on a real case, a real murder that remains unsolved in reality, but in fiction, is given a resolution, and in true murder mystery style, a murderer caught and brought to justice, and the other strands and characters brought together to conclude the plot and lead into the next book, out later this year.

Taking real life people, historical figures, ad placing them in a fictional context is always interesting and always has potential to go really wrong, or really right. Jessica Fellowes has done an exceptional job – taking historical figures who would later become well known in various circles – Nancy for her writing, Unity for her Nazi tendencies – and created a world where we can see what might have triggered these choices for the girls, and we get to know the Mitford sisters as children and humans and also get to know the ones whose names might not instantly come to mind such as Pamela, and Deborah.

Using an unsolved mystery from history and giving it a potential resolution in its own time and place in fiction worked wonderfully – it was a case that captured the imaginations of the characters and gave them a drive to find out what had happened. Louisa is cleverly written, as is Nancy – both confined by what society wants them to do, yet at the same time, rebellious and eager to step outside these boundaries, Louisa perhaps less so as she wants to remain in the safety of the job and away from her uncle – a plot point that swims through the narrative as well, and at times, these little shifts outside of what they’re expected to do take the plot in an unforeseen yet useful and intriguing direction that helps to bring the many strands together to solve the mysteries that surround the murder, Louisa herself, and Roland Lucknor, a young man who served with Nancy’s father in war and whose suspicious behaviour triggers alarm bells in Louisa and Guy’s minds. Like all good mysteries, it of course has the initial crime and investigators but also red herrings and conflicts between characters that show their flaws and humanity, but it also encapsulates a period in history where class and gender could dictate what one could do and say, and how to present oneself – and I felt this was dealt with really well, and in a way that is believable and accessible to a modern audience, as well as dealing with the hints at rebellion Nancy showed, whilst ensuring she still fit into the mould her parents wanted her to.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the rest of these novels go, and what will happen next with Louisa and the Mitford sisters.

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The Butterfly in Amber (Chain of Charms #6) by Kate Forsyth

the butterfly in amber.jpgTitle: The Butterfly in Amber (Chain of Charms #6)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction/Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published:

Format: 1st July 2008

Pages: 266

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Life is always hard for the gypsies, who live to their own rhythm and their own rules, but since Oliver Cromwell had seized control of England, life had been harder – and drabber – than ever. But now life for the Finch tribe has gone even more horribly wrong. They have been accused of vagrancy and murder, and thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are 13-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka. They have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. Then, perhaps, the gypsies could once again have some luck… And the Finch tribe could walk free. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

28th August – 3rd September, 1658:
Luka and Emilia travel to London to find the last of the Graylings tribe, who has married a Puritan lawyer and turned her back on her past. As well as all the perils of the capital city, the children must escape the vengeful Coldham, and still get to Kingston-Upon-Thames in time to rescue their families. But then, on the anniversary of his greatest victory, the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell is mysteriously stricken down… Will everything change? And can the children save their family in time?

The thrilling conclusion to the Chain of Charms series.

Winner of the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe Butterfly in Amber marks the finale of The Chain of Charms series, and it reaches its climax as Luka and Emilia reach London, the capital and the heart of Parliament, and where Cromwell is destined to die within days of them arriving. As they set foot in London, they are pursued by Coldham, and arrive at the home of the Countess of Dysart, whose loyalties are uncertain until she agrees to shelter the children as they make their way through London, searching for the last member of the Grayling family, who has married a Puritan lawyer, turning away from her past. Here, they will meet family they never knew they had, be reunited with a friend from the past, and have to continue to try and evade Coldham as Cromwell is struck down on the anniversary of his greatest victory – all things Emilia has seen as they travelled across the country. With the charms reunited at last, can Emilia and Luka save their family in time?Kate_Forsyth

In the final instalment, Luka and Emilia, now in London, must use all their luck and abilities to evade Coldham, the Roundheads and pickpockets – as they seek to reunite the charms, save their family and meet up with the rest of the traveller families that they have encountered on their quest for the charms. As they venture onwards, sacrifices must be made – and they are always on watch, in case they fall into the wrong hands. Fate will bring an old ally to them and set forth a series of events that culminate in the finale of their quest, and the resolution written down in history about the end of Cromwell’s reign and the return of peace to England.

Kate Forsyth’s series  finale is as exciting and engaging as the previous five books, and brings together all the threads of story, plot and characters that have been popping in and out since the beginning of the story. I read it in two nights, eager to see what happened and how it was all resolved, and was caught up in the history, adventure and magic faced by Emilia and Luka on their perilous journey to find the charms and reunite them to save their family. She combines magic and history to create a believable  and inspiring world, where there are good characters, like Emilia and Luka, the evil characters such as Coldham, and the characters who, at great risk to their own safety and lives, help Emilia and Luka such as Tom Whitehorse, Countess Dysart and the many others who sheltered Emilia and Luka, and helped them get away from Coldham and find the charms on their journey.

I had so many favourite characters, especially the crew from the previous two books that included the Royalist Duke, a highwayman, Tom Whitehorse, and a Catholic Priest, whose company kept them alive and showed that people from all walks of life wanted to end Cromwell’s rule and were willing to do whatever they could to achieve it – including the Catholic Underground helping Luka and Emilia, proving the complexity of issues in the world can be seen from many angles, and is dealt with exceptionally well in children’s books.

I have now completed my read of this series, and thoroughly enjoyed it as I have all the other Kate Forsyth books I have read. Onto the next adventures!

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The Lightning Bolt (Chain of Charms #5) by Kate Forsyth

the lightning bolt.jpgTitle: The Lightning Bolt (Chain of Charms #5)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Literature

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 10th November 2007/1st September 2008

Format: Paperback

Pages: 220

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: The final three paperbacks of the award-winning six-book series by Kate Forsyth.

Life is always hard for the gypsies, who live to their own rhythm and their own rules, but since Oliver Cromwell had seized control of England, life had been harder – and drabber – than ever. But now life for the Finch tribe has gone even more horribly wrong. They have been accused of vagrancy and murder, and thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live.

The only members of the family to escape are 13-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka. They have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. Then, perhaps, the gypsies could once again have some luck… and the Finch tribe could walk free. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

27th August 1685:
Sussex was the first county secured by the Roundheads because of its iron foundries. Here in the Weald, the Smith tribe are working for Parliament, making cannons and weaponry. They have prospered under Cromwell’s rule, and have no interest in old gypsy charms. And it is here where Luka and Emilia must find the fifth charm, a finely-wrought lightning bolt, and amidst the smoke and noise of the Horsmonden foundry, the gypsy children run into old friends… and old enemies.

Winner of Aurealis Awards’ Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn the fifth book of the Chain of Charms series, Emilia and Luka find themselves in Sussex, where they need to find the Smith family of travellers, and the one who holds the lightning bolt charm – the fifth in the magical chain of charms that Emilia believes will bring the Finch family luck and see them released from the prison that Coldham and the Roundheads have put them in – for singing and dancing in the marketplace. As they venture towards London, they are separated from those who helped them in the previous book, and reunite with Fairnette and her family, the Smiths who hold the lightning bolt. Not only must they get the charm, but earn the trust of Fairnette’s father, and face betrayal from the Hearnes, whom they thought they could trust in The Silver Horse. In the foundry at Horsmonden where the Smiths now work, they will face fire and smoke, and make that one step closer to London and saving their families.

The intensifying plot gets more interesting as the story goes on, and as Emilia and Luka encounter people who help them – from the Catholic Underground to kin who live a new life and somewhere in between – the rebels, the Dukes who wish to change things. The children are helped because these people can see the changes coming – and seeing two young children alone appears to be hard for some characters to comprehend – so Emilia and Luka appeal to their humanity, and Emilia’s ability to see the future has begun to be apparent and become a part of the storyline, where she can foresee what is to come and uses it to her advantage to get help. The pace at which these books have been moving is excellent and engaging – no need for meandering or slow moving scenes that complement her other books for adults – pure action and adventure for kids and kids at heart.

As always, Kate Forsyth’s characters are layered, and intricate, and through each book, as a reader, I discovered something new about these beloved characters, Emilia, Luka and Zizi, and those new characters they meet that ensure their journey can continue, in contrast to those trying to stop what they are doing. Mixed in is Coldham and his stubborn, singlemindedness that he has to catch Emilia and Luka at all costs, a constant threat that ensures the pace of the novel moves quickly and fervently as Emilia and Luka seek to save their family from hanging.

Of all the characters, Coldham is perhaps the most loathsome, because he is so pinpointedly focussed on getting rid of Emilia, Luka and all like them, that there is little room for much else to happen with him. He is the kind of character you do not want to encounter, and Kate Forsyth has written him as exquisitely as any of her other characters.

The weaving in of the history of rule under Cromwell, and the English Civil War, and the treatment of travellers like Emilia and Luka, and their kin makes the story powerful and grounded in a time and place where some things were different, but the treatment of those different to the ruling class has not really changed – the way some people are treated illustrates that there will always be degrees of hatred and discrimination – in a world where the understandings we have today were not present, Emilia and Luka fought hard, and I’m keen to see where the next book takes them.

In the penultimate instalment of the Chain of Charms series, Luka and Emilia start to have hope, that maybe they will finally be able to free their family from prison and live as they have for their entire lives and be who they are. It is a beautiful series that I am so close to finishing and hope to finish by the weekend.

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The Herb of Grace (Chain of Charms #3) by Kate Forsyth

Cyan Magenta Yellow BlackTitle: The Herb of Grace (Chain of Charms #3)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 10th November 2007

Format: Paperback

Pages: 246

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Once there was a gypsy queen who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms. The queen gave each her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain was broken, the gypsies had been dogged with misfortune.

It is the fifth year of the Lord Protector’s rule, and not safe nor seemly to love bright colours, nor music, nor dancing, nor magic, nor any of the things that the gypsies most loved, and which made them who they were. But now life for the Finch tribe has gone even more horribly wrong – they have been thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are Emilia and her cousin Luka. They have been entrusted to find the six charms – then, perhaps, the gypsies could once again have some luck. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

15th-19th August, 1658:
Luka and Emilia must travel to the New Forest to find the Wood tribe, whose charm is a rue flower, the herb of grace. Its power is that of plants and herbs – which can both heal and poison.

On the way, the two children tangle with an impoverished widow, the thief-taker Coldham, a highwayman and a witch, and find themselves caught up in a Royalist plot to restore King Charles II to his throne.

Winner of Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseAgain we catch up with Luka and Emilia Finch as they travel the English countryside as they seek to reunite the magical charms of the six gypsy clans, and free their family from prison and their fate at the noose. Having left the Hearne tribe with the silver horse, Emilia has had to trade her beloved Alida for it, and they’ve left their bear, Sweetheart with Sebastien for safety – with only themselves, their dog, Rollo and monkey Zizi, they hope that it will be harder for Cromwell and his men, and in particular. Coldham, to find them. They must search for the elusive Wood family – with only the name of an inn owner, Gypsy Joe, to go off.

Again, they meet with Tom Whitehorse, the young boy whose home their family once worked in, who has mysteriously appeared wherever they have been since their family has been arrested, followed quickly by Coldham and the men of the Lord Protector.  Emilia and Luka are convinced Tom’s presence has been what has tipped Coldham off about where to find Emilia and Luka. As Gypsy Joe hides them after they’ve stumbled across Lady Anne and her servant, who have helped them bathe, feed and have a decent rest, they discover the truth behind Tom’s constant appearances where they are, and what is really going on – and they then find themselves caught up not only in the quest to reunite the charms and save their family – but a Royalist plot to overthrow Cromwell and restore King Charles II to the throne.

The Herb of Grace marks the half-way point in this series, and the stakes are getting higher. As the month slinks towards closure, Emilia and Luka are sorely pressed for time as they travel on foot to find the rest of the charms that they hope will change their family’s luck and restore King Charles II to the throne. I’m just about to start The Cat’s Eye Shell, where Emilia and Luka, together with Tom Whitehouse, a Catholic Priest, a highwayman and a Royalist Duke – seeking the restore the throne are in search of the elusive gypsy family and tribe in possession of the cat’s eye shell.

Here, the children must track down a witch – who holds the charm and the sacrifice they must make is even more wrenching than the last ones – but it is something that has to be done to move along with their quest – lest she use her black, dark magic against them, and tamper with what they are trying to do – this character was creepy and someone I don’t think I would be keen to meet alone. she did bring an intrigue and shadow to the story that illustrated that it wasn’t only Cromwell’s side that had evil on it – that good and evil. good and bad can be found in many places, and the characters that show shades of grey and are willing to work together are going to be effective in the culmination of the entire story.

With each book, this series gets more intriguing, and now that Emilia and Luka seem to have a band of allies, I hope things will turn out well for them – we shall see what happens, and how the true history behind the fiction inevitably plays out by the end of the sixth book in the series. As the series appears to take place over a brief period of time, it has been moving rather quickly – a decent pace for what needs to happen and where it needs to happen. I’m loving this series – they are quick reads for me, as they are short but full of fun and action, and intrigue – where Emilia and Luka have to be cautious with who they trust.

The thread of each book has been pleasingly consistent with a plot line that is delightful and easy to follow, mixed in with a few off to the side events that have been slowly building since the first book – it keeps the reader’s interest and ensures that they are learning as they read.

Another excellent offering from the Master Storyteller, Kate Forsyth!

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The Silver Horse (Chain of Charms #2) by Kate Forsyth

the silver horse.jpgTitle: The Silver Horse (Chain of Charms #2)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s Literature

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 10th November 2007

Format: Paperback

Pages: 212

Price: $9.99

Synopsis:Once there was a gypsy queen who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace. The queen gave each of her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies had been dogged with misfortune.

Book Two: The Silver Horse 13th-14th August 1658
Emilia and her cousin Luka have the gypsy crown and are travelling with their menagerie in search of the Hearne tribe. They hope that this family, to whom they will soon be related, will surely help release their kin from gaol. Luka and Emilia find the Hearnes horseracing on the Downs above Epsom. But Emilia must compete to win their support. Will she have to give up her beloved mare in exchange for the Hearne family’s charm – a small silver horse? And can they escape Coldham again?

Book Two in the exciting new six-book series by bestselling author, Kate Forsyth.

Winner of the Aurealis Awards’ best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe second book in The Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth is The Silver Horse, and it picks up right where The Gypsy Crown left off, with Emilia and Luka finding the Hearne family and seeking to make an exchange or deal for the charm that the matriarch – Janka Hearne – holds: a silver horse. Emilia and Luka must find a way to get the charm, and stay together whilst avoiding the thief-taker, Coldham. As they evade capture, Emilia agrees to ride Alida – the filly she’s raised herself – in a race to earn money for Felipe Hearne and if she wins, she will get to take the silver horse charm – that Janka believes has brought her family all their good luck. With several close calls with Coldham and his men, Emilia and Luka find that they cannot trust anyone – not even Tom Whitehorse – the son of the family who they’ve worked with for years. What will Emilia give up so she can reunite the chain of charms and what deal will she make to save her family?

Kate Forsyth has delivered again – an engaging story trimmed with historical fact, with characters running the spectrum of humanity and communicating the injustices and discrimination against people like Emilia and Luka whilst maintaining an authenticity to the period that shows she has done immaculate research. Kate’s approach to researching her books shines through on every page and enriches the experience – putting her fictional characters and situations into an historical setting that resonates clearly and with a life of its own.

Much like in The Gypsy Crown, Kate Forsyth has managed to show what people like Emilia and Luka were subjected to, creating an empathy for them, and having characters on both sides whom you’re never sure you can like or trust, but who in the end, aim to do the right thing, the moral thing. Even if the moral and ethical thing to do is illegal. In The Silver Horse, the Hearne family – Felipe and Cosmo, and a stable hand – Dicky – show that they are willing to do the right thing to help Emilia and Luka, even though they take some convincing.

The pacing is very similar to The Gypsy Crown, and ensures that the reader is captivated throughout the novel and is learning about the history of Oliver Cromwell as they read. Indeed, the scene is set from the first page of the first book, and the mood of discomfort of the time, yet gives hope that the children will achieve their goals. If anything, history tells us what happened to Cromwell and those who supported him. What this series also shows is that fear of what we do not know, and fear of what is different has never changed – that it happens in many incarnations and to many people throughout history. The powerless are given a voice in this series, and this is effective as it allows readers to glimpse what the other side must have gone through, and not just the side with the power.

Another fabulous read from the delightful Kate Forsyth – book three is about to be started now!

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The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1) by Kate Forsyth

UnknownTitle: The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Published: 10th November 2007

Format: Paperback

Pages:202

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Once there was a gypsy queen who wore on her wrist a chain of six lucky charms – a golden crown, a silver horse, a butterfly caught in amber, a cat’s eye shell, a bolt of lightning forged from the heart of a falling star, and the flower of the rue plant, herb of grace. The queen gave each of her six children one of the charms as their lucky talisman, but ever since the chain of charms was broken, the gypsies had been dogged with misfortune.

It is even worse for the Finch tribe – they have been thrown into gaol with only three weeks to live. The only members of the family to escape are thirteen-year-old Emilia and her cousin Luka, who have been entrusted to find the six charms and bring them together again. What Emilia and Luka do not realise is that there is a price to be paid for each lucky charm, and that the cost may prove too high…

Book 1: The Gypsy Crown:
9th August – 12th August 1658

Maggie has given them the first charm – an old gold coin – but Luka and Emilia must escape the brutal thief-taker, Coldham. With a horse, a monkey, a dog, and a huge brown bear in their train, it is hard to travel secretly as they flee across the Surrey countryside. With a little bit of luck – or, as Emilia believes, magic – they manage to escape, but Coldham will not give up so easily.

Winner of Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Long Fiction 2007

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseI have had this series on my shelf for a few years, and between finishing studies and reviewing for publishers, finding time to read them has been tight – thankfully, I am for once, on top of my requests, with a couple directly received from authors to go which will hopefully be up within the next two weeks.

To start, I adore anything Kate Forsyth writes – and The Gypsy Crown, which starts the Chain of Charms series, is no exception. Set during the turbulent days of Oliver Cromwell’s rule over England in the 1650s, Emilia and Luka Finch are sent on a daring quest across England to reunite a chain of charms –  a crown (coin), a silver horse, a herb of grace, a cat’s eye shell, a lightning bolt and a butterfly in amber – that was once split between six traveller/Rom/gypsy families – all three are used throughout the book to refer to the characters and to reflect the attitudes of the time in a genuine and authentic way – the Finches, their family who hold the crown, the Hearnes, the Wood tribe, an elusive tribe who holds the cat’s eye charm, the Smiths and the Graylings. Each family, or tribe, holds a charm, and uniting them will hopefully help their family and gain their release from prison.

Emilia and Luka have the crown – but to start gathering the rest of the charms, they must escape Coldham – responsible for rounding up their family and other thieves. But they also have a bear, a dog, a monkey and a horse with them, making travel harder. But as they run across Surrey, they will embark on a journey that will change their lives.

Kate_Forsyth

Kate Forsyth writes her historical fiction books for adults and children so that the well-researched facts meld seamlessly with the fictitious characters and plot that is engaging, informative and fast-paced. There are no lags, and the intrigue of what is happening and the quest for the rest of the charms. This series for children has an exciting start, filled with mystery and glimpses of the past, with echoes and foreshadows of centuries of discrimination against many groups including Emilia and Luka’s people – as they are hunted by Coldham. It allows readers to explore history in an educational and enjoyable way, and Kate Forsyth has done an excellent job at showing the prejudices of Coldham whilst maintaining respect for Emilia and Luka.

I’m about to start the second book, The Silver Horse, and hope to have the entire series read soon.

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The Boy Made From Snow by Chloë Mayer

boy made from snow.jpgTitle: The Boy Made From Snow

Author: Chloë Mayer

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 14th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 328

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: ‘THE BOY MADE OF SNOW had me compulsively turning the pages to find out the fate of Daniel and his mother. A haunting and thrilling read. I absolutely loved it’ Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT
An evocative and stunning debut‘ Jane Harris, author of GILLESPIE AND I
‘Original and unsettling – and just a little bit heartbreaking’ Rachel Rhys, author of DANGEROUS CROSSING
‘A beautiful and evocative debut’ STYLIST
‘Affecting’ DAILY MAIL

In a sleepy English village in 1944, Annabel and her son Daniel live in the shadow of war. With her husband away, an increasingly isolated Annabel begins to lose her grip on reality.

When mother and son befriend Hans, a German PoW consigned to a nearby farm, their lives are suddenly filled with thrilling secrets.

To Annabel, Hans is an awakening from the darkness that has engulfed her since Daniel’s birth. To her son, a solitary boy caught up in the magical world of fairy tales, he is perhaps a prince in disguise. But Hans has plans of his own and will soon set them into motion with devastating consequences.

~*~

Daniel has grown up during a war.  In 1944, World War Two is nearing the end, and German Prisoners of War have been brought into the village of Bambury to work on the farms. His mother, Annabel, watches as they are marched in, catching a glance of one of them. Hans has been unlucky, captured by the British and Allied armies, and sent to a camp until the end of the war. As he works at Mr Dawson’s farm, chopping firewood to sell to the villagers, Annabel and Daniel befriend him. To Daniel, he is the woodcutter hero of the fairy tales Daniel loves, and lives in in his day to day life, a way of escape from the war. To his mother, he is unknown, mysterious and a force that will rekindle her desire for life, and bring light into a darkness she has felt since Daniel’s birth – a darkness that she has tried to fight against for many years. It is through this friendship she begins to find a way back to who she was before he was born. But Hans has his own plans that he uses them for, and sets in motion a series of events that have devastating consequences.

Told in alternating chapters for Annabel and Daniel, Daniel’s chapters are told in first person, Annabel’s in third person. In this novel, it has been done effectively, and evocatively. Through Annabel, we see the pain she is in, and the indifference she feels at times, and he struggle to cope with much in her life. Through Daniel, there is an innocence and a resilience – he knows more than he lets on, and must learn to find a way to cope in a world of war with a mother who he does most things for. Through his friendship with Hans, or Hansel, as he calls him, Daniel learns that the world is much more complicated than it is in fairy tales, and a devastating day will have adverse effects on his life and all those in Bambury. It is a story steeped in tragedy – tragedy of life, tragedy of war and the tragedy of humanity and how people cope, or don’t cope with horrific or traumatising events. The fairy tale aspect of the novel comes through in Daniel and how he views the world, especially through stories such as The Snow Queen, which is quoted before each chapter, hinting at what is to come. It is a haunting novel, set during a turbulent time in history, looking at how people cope when their worlds collide, and things seem like they’ll never be the same again.

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