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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Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

~*~

 

Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

the red ribbonTitle: The Red Ribbon

Author: Lucy Addlington

Genre: Historical Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: Bonnier/Hotkey/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might all have been friends together. This was Birchwood. For readers of The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as readers may recognise it. Every dress she makes could mean the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration with her captors, or is it a means of staying alive? Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose? One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud – a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

~*~

Set during the final months and years of the Second World War, Ella has been whisked away off the streets to the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, known in the novel as Birchwood. Here, she is set to working, making clothes for the guards and the Commandant and his family. Here, she learns to make patterns, to choose the right colours for people, and together with Rose, the storyteller, whose fairy-tale optimism keeps the girls going during the darkest of days, dreams of the dress shop they will own one day in the City of Lights – Paris. Ella’s way of describing her world Them, Guards – Nazis, and Stripeys – those in the concentration camp – is both innocent and sobering. It is a child’s view of this world she now inhabits, a world where she is not immune to the brutality surrounding her. It is Ella’s perspective that gives the novel the powerful impact it needs to have, to remind us of what has happened in the past, and to prevent the same thing happening again.

To escape the horrors of the camp, Ella finds her solace in sewing and designing clothes, a skill that she knows she will use when she gets out – but in a place where it seems nobody will ever leave, she begins to wonder if she will ever achieve her dream, or if it’s just a way to comfort herself through the long, dark days. It is not a comfortable novel to read, and nor should it be. Any novel that delves into the darker depths of human history and humanity should not be a comfortable or easy read. What this novel shows is that we should never forget, but also that the human spirit’s capacity to push on through adversity and survive, even when we think we can’t go on.

The Red Ribbon is one of those novels that stays with you and haunts you. It is not one to shy away from the gritty reality that Ella lives in. Instead, the gritty reality is shown, and the horrors communicated through Ella’s eyes as she fights to stay alive and then fights to find freedom. It is a novel to be read alongside the history books, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and stories of resistance against the regime, as portrayed in The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, Reading these books together will give a more human view of the Holocaust than we get from history books – a human face put to those affected, to those caught up in what was going and to those actively trying to resist. Lucy has captured the history and experiences eloquently, and sensitively, ensuring that the careful research she did has been communicated in an effective and informative way to readers, and giving them a chance to explore the history behind the story in her notes at the end of the novel. it is one that I hope to read again at some stage, because it is important that we keep reading these stories to never forget, and to prevent it happening again during our own lifetimes.

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She Be Damned by MJ Tjia

She be Damned_Front_Cover.jpgTitle: She Be Damned

Author: M.J. Tjia

Genre: Historical Crime

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st August 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 251

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: London courtesan or professional sleuth?

London, 1863: Women in Waterloo are turning up dead, their sexual organs mutilated and removed. When another girl goes missing, fears grow that the killer may have claimed their latest victim.

The police are at a loss and so it falls to courtesan and professional detective, Heloise Chancey, to investigate.

With the assistance of her trusty Chinese maid, Amah Li Leen, Heloise inches closer to the truth. But when Amah is implicated in the brutal plot, Heloise must reconsider who she can trust, before the killer strikes again.

~*~

The popularity of amateur sleuths, historical crime and cosy crime means that there has been an explosion of these books of late – reviving the days of Agatha Christie and her characters, Poirot and Miss Marple, and joining the ranks of The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, Rowland Sinclair and modern amateur sleuths such as Mma Precious Ramotswe and Inspector Ashwin Chopra (Retd) in their quests to rid the world of criminals and crime. The latest, just as unique character to join them is Heloise Chancey, a courtesan in London during the 1860s, who is called upon to discreetly look into cases for some of London’s important people, or into the cases that nobody really worries about. Heloise becomes embroiled in a murder mystery about prostitutes turning up dead, minus their sexual organs in Waterloo when a young girl in the upper classes, Eleanor, goes missing. Her father and Sir Thomas, Heloise’s employer, believe she has met the same fate as the prostitutes, and employ Heloise, and require the utmost discretion, as she can go places that the police cannot, or will not. Together with her maid and companion, Amah Li Leen. Together, they will inch closer to the truth – but when Amah is embroiled in the plot, Heloise must use all of her wits to find the real culprit before they strike again.

BW Mirandi TjiaDebut novels, especially for a series, are crucial to establishing the character and style of the story and the author to the reader. They cement the setting for readers and with any luck, have them wanting more – often the mark of a series that will be successful and gain a loyal following. Heloise Chancey’s debut ensures that she has a place as a character and the author, M.J. Tjia, will have fans who will eagerly await her next book. It didn’t take me long to read this one, and I quite enjoyed it. It had strong characters, revealed their histories slowly, and still left some questions unanswered for future books, and allowed the reader to unfold the story with the protagonist, which is often quite fun in mystery stories, and allows the pacing to move along effectively.

In an engaging plot, M.J. Tjia’s characters become their own entity, each with their own flaws and strengths that make them engaging. Heloise is as stubborn as she is elegant, Amah is as snarky and sarcastic as she is honourable and faithful. Together, they work, and though Amah is at times disdainful of Heloise’s chosen occupation, she nonetheless puts up with her antics, whilst delivering some harsh truths to her mistress and ensuring she has done her best to prevent disasters happening to Heloise during her adventures and investigations.

True to the Victorian period, the male characters overwhelmingly concern themselves aww2017-badgewith Heloise’s delicate feminine sensibilities – sensibilities that Heloise doesn’t have, nor does she subscribe to, leaving the men quite shocked that she doesn’t faint all the time, whilst still maintaining her standing and the characteristics of a Victorian lady. She is, at the same time, appropriate for the time period, whilst standing out and away from the societal expectations of the time, ensuring a strong character with an intriguing story. I hope that Heloise has more stories and more secrets to come, and I await her further adventures eagerly.

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A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill (Rowland Sinclair #8)

Flat Cover_Gentill_ADL_2017Title: A Dangerous Language

Author: Sulari Gentill

Genre: Crime Fiction

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 1st October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Set against the glamorous backdrop of the 1930s in Australia and overseas, A Dangerous Language is the latest in the much loved, award winning Rowland Sinclair Mysteries.

When Rowland Sinclair volunteers his services as a pilot to fly the renowned international peace advocate, Egon Kisch, between Fremantle and Melbourne, he is unaware of how hard Australia’s new Attorney-General will fight to keep the “raging reporter” off Australian soil. In this, it seems, the government is not alone, as clandestine right-wing militias reconstitute into deadly strike forces.

When a Communist agent is murdered on the steps of Parliament House, Rowland Sinclair finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of politics and assassination.

A disgraced minister, an unidentified corpse and an old flame all bring their own special bedlam. Once again Rowland Sinclair stands against the unthinkable, with an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress by his side.

~*~

A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill marks book number thirty eight in my Australian Women Writer’s challenge for 2017, and as usual, has not failed to impress and of course, distress at times. Now in 1934, inching closer to the threat of war, Rowland is in Melbourne, purchasing a new car to replace his beloved Mercedes, that met with destruction in the almost fatal car race of the previous book, Give The Devil His Due. The trip back from Melbourne with Clyde Watson Jones and Milton Isaacs, an artist and poet whose political allegiances, especially on Milt’s account, have put Rowland in his brother’s firing line of anguish, should be uneventful. However, their sojourn through Canberra, where they are to meet Edna, Milt stumbles across the body of a Communist on the steps of Parliament House – an event that beings the tumultuous venture to get Egon Kisch into Australia, and speaking out against the Fascist tendencies that Rowland and his friends witnessed in Germany in Paving the New Road. When Rowland’s brother, Wilfred, comes onto the scene, Rowly must do whatever he can to keep his plans to help Egon away from his conservative brother – who nonetheless knows that the Fascists are dangerous. Even so, the big brother is also keen to pry his mostly apolitical brother away from the influence of those Rowland chooses to keep company with.

aww2017-badgeIn this eighth venture, politics begins to have a larger focus than in the previous seven novels, where it was present, but had less impact on the plot. In this novel, it seems nobody is safe from the clashes between each side – this is what makes the novel gripping, as it ensures that those who hurt Milt and Rowly (poor Rowland was in the wars a bit in this one again) are shrouded in mystery. As always, I enjoy the Rowland Sinclair novels, and this one was two years in the waiting, and rightly so in the end, because it captured the political turbulence and environment of the 1930s in a way that is accessible to those just discovering it, and highlighting some aspects and characters that are perhaps less well-known than others during this time.

Fiction often offers parallels to history or contemporary times, and it is not hard to see BW_Author_Photo_Gentill_2016how the dangerous language that Rowland and his friends opposed in 1934 from Fascists and the conservatives of the time is repeating itself today. The feelings of powerlessness that the ordinary people had against those in politics and with influence that can encourage this dangerous language Rowland dislikes are felt through Milt and Clyde throughout the novel, and in particular Clyde during a boat cruise from Fremantle to Melbourne, where they must ensure Egon gets to Melbourne safely, and in Traveller’s Class, Rowland is able to get Egon as far as possible on his trip. The social class contrast between Rowland and his friends appears even more so in this book, where class and politics have become crucial to the evolution of the plot and characters at the stage of the series. The history of this turbulent period is woven into the plot and is sometimes the motive behind the crime, such as in A Dangerous Language. I also enjoy the inclusion of historical figures and people throughout that had an impact on history – this gives the stories an authenticity to them that is both exciting and informative at the same time.

As always, Rowland takes a few hits from people trying to cover up their crime, or another secret, and his brother Wilfred, battle-weary by now from saving the family name, is still faithful to Rowland, if a bit pompous at times. I do feel for Rowly when Wilfred loses his temper, as so often happens when Rowland stumbles into something he didn’t intend to. As polar opposites, Sulari has created exceptional characters in the Sinclair family, and their friends, including the heartbreak that Rowland’s own mother doesn’t recognise him, but sees him as his long-dead brother, Aubrey, an ongoing theme throughout the series that Rowland takes in his stride, and that Sulari has written exceptionally well. The Rowland Sinclair series is one that gets better with each subsequent mystery, and the uniquely Australian settings are in themselves a character – from Woodlands estate in Sydney, to the family property at Yass, and each place Rowland and his friends visit. They are often the unwilling detectives at first, dedicated to their art and friendship, but also dedicated to speaking out when and where they need to, to ensure that the dangerous language that Egon Kisch is trying to warn against does not infect the way of life that many in Australia enjoy. Once they are involved in the crime, it seems they cannot help themselves, and Rowland, as an honourable person, is always at hand to warn Colin Delaney of new information they stumble across.

An excellent addition to this series, and I look forward to the next one, which will hopefully be out soon!

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The Last Hours by Minette Walters

Title: The Last Hoursthe last hours.jpg

Author: Minette Walters

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 27th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 568

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.

When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly.

The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband.

She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?

Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.

From the press release: June 1348: the Black Death enters England through the Port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands. A culture of terror and superstition quickly sweeps across the land as news of the Black Death travels far and wide.

In the demesne of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures. Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the safety of the demesne? And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo…?

~*~

It’s 1348 and The Black Death, known in the fourteenth century, has arrived in Dorsetshire, England. It has come upon them quietly, with the arrival of Lady Anne’s husband back from a quest to find daughter Eleanor a husband. Aged just fourteen, Eleanor will quickly learn some harsh truths about her life, and the world around her. In an effort to prevent the pestilence from entering the demesne, Develish, Lady Anne instructs the serfs to be brought inside, and will not allow anybody across the moat, or inside – including her husband. Whilst the Church is driving the message home that the pestilence is a punishment from God, Lady Anne protects her people without daily confession. Labelled a heretic for turning away from the Church at this time, and finding new ways to keep the pestilence at bay, Lady Anne is supported wholly by loyal, leading serfs, but makes an enemy out of her daughter. With food stores running low, will Develish continue to be the haven that Lady Anne has tried to create? Or will everyone, including Lady Anne and Eleanor, begin to fray at the edges and turn on each other?

The Black Death and the Middle Ages is not a period of time I have encountered often in literature – it is a period of time that was as significant in history as Culloden, Mary Queen of Scots and the First and Second World Wars – and I seem to have encountered more stories that use these other events and people or aspects of these events and people as a basis for the story. The Last Hours looks to be the first of at least two books, maybe more, as there is a preview for the follow-up out next year, and given the ending, I came away in search of more answers, but still enjoyed the story.

Placing a female hero at the centre of the story in a time when a woman’s position in society was determined by the men around her, and having everyone see her as the authority was executed wonderfully – as there were still reminders from Eleanor and Father Anselm that Lady Anne’s authority would be cut short when another Lord from another demesne arrived and took control of Develish. With the turning tide of the pestilence, Lady Anne’s daughter feels the strain of what is going on and what is to come, and begins to take her anger out on those around her – though little do they know what she is hiding from them, something that she herself is perhaps unaware of at first – and which I felt shaped her character. She was hard to like, whereas her mother was a likeable character, and Minette has done well at showing the breadth of personalities amongst the serfs and the others at Develish.

minetteEach of these characters have flaws and strengths that reflect the fragility of humanity and religion, revealing these flaws for what they are and showing that they do not make someone a whole person. The flaws in religion are revealed through the doctrine of absolving sins to make the pestilence go away, but still seeing those that undertake this act dying within days or weeks of contracting it. And so, Lady Anne posits a different view – that piety or lack thereof, is not the cause, and a faithful serf and six others set out, across the moat and into the unknown to find out what is happening beyond Develish and to bring back supplies. But will they work out the source of the pestilence on their journey?

The Last Hours is a gripping novel of intrigue and explores an historical event that devastated so many during the fourteenth century, and coupled with a terrible event that threatens to rock the status quo of Develish, these two events will certainly bring devastation in more ways than one to the demesne, and shake the foundations to the core. And is Lady Anne a saviour, or a heretic? Either way, she is a memorable heroine, and I hope to see more of her soon. Those who enjoy historical fiction with a hint of subversiveness and mystery will enjoy this book.

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The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

the secret books.jpgTitle: The Secret Books

Author: Marcel Theroux

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Faber Fiction

Published: 27th September, 2017

Format: Hardback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A world on the brink of catastrophe. A two-thousand-year-old mystery. A lost gospel. Both a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

Seeking adventure, a young man flees the drudgery of shopkeeping in Tsarist Russia to make a new life among the bohemians and revolutionaries of 19th century Paris.
Travelling undercover in the mountains of British India, he discovers a manuscript that transforms the world’s understanding of the historical Jesus.
Decades later, in a Europe threatened by unimaginable tragedy, he makes a despairing attempt to right a historic injustice.

This breathtaking novel by the award-winning author of Far North and Strange Bodies tells the extraordinary tale of Nicolas Notovitch and his secret gospel.

It is the epic story of a young man on the make in a turbulent world of spies and double-cross, propaganda and revolutionary violence, lost love and nascent anti-semitism – a world which eerily foreshadows our own era of post-truth politics.

Based on real events, The Secret Books is at once a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

~*~

With most historical fiction novels, it is easy to delineate between the history behind the story, and the fictional elements the author has employed – whether it is characters, or integration of time travel, employed in books such as the Outlander series, or an alternate history, where elements can be changed but some aspects remain historically the same to ensure a degree of authenticity. The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux takes these aspects and turns them on their head, making the reader question what is real, and what is not, and in doing so, has written a clever piece of literary fiction that captures a figure and a moment in time linked to his family, and that interrogates the Pali Gospels, looking at the lost years of Jesus in a historical context, with a touch of spirituality thrown that illuminates the doubt that the religious scholars the main character interacted with had when he presented them with his theories.

Nicolas Notovitch was a real person, the one who looked into these lost years and tried to bring them to the attention of the world, suggesting that the gospels had somehow ignored these years in favour of spreading the message they wanted. At the same time, it explores the journey Nicolas took that led him to these gospels, and down a path of love, marriage and fatherhood, beginning during the late nineteenth century and moving forward into the early decades of the twentieth century, the First World War and eventually, the beginnings of the Second World War. Nicolas’s obsession with proving the existence of these books will cost him – he does not know what until it happens, and I felt him have his heart broken and the rug ripped from beneath his feet. In following a passion for discovering something of historical importance, he had sacrificed the passion and love of family. Prior to discovering these manuscripts and investigating them, Nicolas had escaped his dreary life in Russia for a new bohemian one in Paris, where he meets a variety of characters who introduce him to new ways of thinking such was McGahan, a female journalist in a male dominated world – one aspect that had me questioning whether this was set in current times, a time travel story or whether the author was having a bit of fun with the history – and I feel it was the latter as it left me questioning whether that would have been possible in the time period and social structure of the time.

With each section book-ended by quotes, it was an unusual yet intriguing format that questions what we know about history and what is known about Biblical history, and how these books could alter our understanding of religion and history, and how it might impact religious scholars. It interrogated how people respond to the unknown with fear, something that happens in many areas and places. It was an intriguing book, but one that needs focus to be read, and fully appreciated. It may not be the best before bed book, but it is indeed one that will have an audience out there – and one that can be appreciated by anyone with an interest in history and society.

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