A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Secret Game that Won the War by Simon Parkin

birds and wolves.jpgTitle: A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Secret Game that Won the War

Author: Simon Parkin

Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Sceptre

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Find out what is happening in the Atlantic, find ways of getting the convoys through, and sink the U-boats!’ Prime Minster, Winston Churchill

  1. The Battle of the Atlantic is a disaster. Thousands of supply ships ferrying vital food and fuel from North America to Britain are being torpedoed by German U-boats.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill is lying to the country about the number of British ships sunk. He is lying about the number of British men killed. And worst of all, unless something changes, he knows that Britain is weeks away from being starved into surrender to the Nazis.

This is the story of the game of battleships that won the Second World War. In the first week of 1942 a group of unlikely heroes – a retired naval captain and a clutch of brilliant young women, the youngest only seventeen-years-old – gather to form a secret strategy unit. On the top floor of a bomb-bruised HQ in Liverpool, the Western Approaches Tactical Unit spends days and nights designing and playing wargames in an effort to crack the U-boat tactics.

A GAME OF BIRDS AND WOLVES takes us from the sweltering fug of a U-boat as the German aces coordinate their wolfpack, to the tense atmosphere of the operation room as the British team plot battles at sea on the map.

The story of Operation Raspberry and its unsung heroines has never been told before. Investigative journalist Simon Parkin brings these hidden figures into the light and shows the ingenuity, perseverance and love needed to defeat the Nazis in this gripping tale of war at sea.

~*~

In 1941, the Battle of the Atlantic is raging between Britain and Germany, months before Pearl Harbour is bombed and the Americans finally enter the war. Following the sinking of a ship taking evacuees to America for safety, where only thirty-three of all the children aboard survived, Churchill decides it is time to take more action. With each sunken ship, Britain is receiving fewer supplies to keep the country going. In 1942, a retired naval captain and a group of Wrens begin to plot a strategy to defeat the U-Boats, using maps and small ships to build a game to plan warfare – a game that would come to be known as Battleship. Parkin weaves between this and what was happening with Germany, and peppers it with personal stories of what happened, and in the events leading up to the creation of the game, showing just how close things came to ending up a different way, and how a simple game of secrecy became one of the biggest and most significant strategies in the war that would end in 1945 with the defeat of Germany.

Had Operation Raspberry not gone ahead and had these people whose stories have never been told not risked their lives to plot the naval battles of the Atlantic, World War Two might have had a very different outcome for many people in Europe and indeed, the rest of the world. This is another story from the war that has previously been untold and was shrouded in secrecy until Simon Parkin discovered it. It is an important story, because it adds to the historical record of how the trajectory of World War Two was changed, and ultimately, changed the outcome of the war.

Knowing these stories adds to our understanding of the war – some facts may have been known – the general facts, the basics, but not the intricacies of how the game came about, who was involved and what they spent their days doing, as well as the dangers they faced even just planning and executing the game, which led to safety measures being put in place after a few incidents.

Like other aspects and figures in history who have long been hidden, silenced or ignored for one reason or another, including issues around secrecy like this war game, these stories coming to light expands on what we already know, and gives us a new understanding for what happened and how it happened, and what it took to get there. With carefully researched books like this, these stories are told in engaging and intriguing ways, and should perhaps become recommended reading for students of history, especially when studying this area of history, so they can gain a better understanding beyond what we already know.

An intriguing read for anyone studying or interested in history.

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll

when we were warriors.jpgTitle: When We Were Warriors

Author: Emma Carroll

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Faber

Published: 3rd June 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: An irresistible return to World War Two for the Queen of Historical Fiction.

A body washed up on the beach…
Evacuation to an old house with forbidden rooms and dark secrets…
An animal rescue service…

Set in World War Two, Emma Carroll explores the resilience, resourcefulness and inventiveness of children when their lives fall to pieces. Introducing some compelling new characters, as well as revisiting some familiar settings, these adventures are sure to win over new readers, as well as fans of old favourites such as Letters from the Lighthouse and Frost Hollow Hall.

Air raids, rationing, the threat of invasion: everyday life in wartime Britain is pretty grim, and often pretty dull.

That’s what Stanley thinks, anyway – until his home is bombed and he’s evacuated to a remote old house with the mysterious name Frost Hollow Hall…

It’s what Olive thinks too – until she finds a body washed up at Budmouth Point…

Velvet just wishes she could be useful – and when the air-raid warden brings in a ban that puts all the pets in peril. she grabs her chance.

Three thrilling stories about three different children, who find adventure, courage, untrainable dogs and an impossibly tall American GI where they least expect it.

~*~

Literature and stories set in World War Two for children don’t shy away from the fear and horrors of the war years. Instead, they tell the stories through the eyes of the children, and in a way that younger readers can grasp and relate to without going too far into the darkness of the war or making it too happy. They have a really good balance, and Emma Carroll’s latest, When We Were Warriors does not disappoint.

Here are three separate novellas, about three different children during the war, connected by displacement, air raids and places of isolation, and the presence of Americans in Britain during the days of the war following America’s entry in 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbour.

In The Night Visitors, Stanley and his sisters are evacuated to Frost Hollow Hall, and are told not to go near the lake. And not to disturb the mistress of the house. There seems to be a mystery surrounding everything there, and when an American GI turns up, secrets start to come out with revelations that change them all. Here, Emma shows what the reality of evacuees was, and how they adapted to their surroundings in days when fear drove so many things.

In the second story, Olive’s Army, the children and young people of Budmouth Point discover a body on the beach – the body of a German soldier, whose identity becomes confused with Ephraim, the lighthouse keeper. Ephraim is arrested, and the children must prove he is innocent and stop a German invasion. Also present in this novel, is the shadow of the Nazi concentration camps, and the Kindertransport that one character, Esther, was on. Carroll relays this part of the war simply, within a few sentences but still conveys the reality of what Jewish people went through during the war. Again, the American GI shows up to help solve the mystery.

Finally, in Operation Velvet, Velvet sets out to save the animals of her friends and family, after an air raid warden puts forward rules that put them in danger. when she discovers a dog with puppies, together with her friends and the help of an American GI, she saves all the pets and finds homes for the puppies.

With several things connecting these stories, this is a great book, and I really enjoyed the way the connections were at first, surface: the war, seen through the eyes of children, invasion, evacuation and threats. Astute readers will notice the less obvious, or at least more subtle link as they read, and get to the end where things become clearer. It is cleverly put together and shows how war affected people differently through three very unique experiences.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

7 OR 8 DEATHS.jpgTitle: The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna

Author: Juliet Grames

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 23rd April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A perfect book club and holiday read that crosses from mountainside Calabrian villages in the early 20th century to Hartford, Connecticut after the immigration boom and will appeal to fans of Elena Ferrante, CAPTAIN CORRELLI’S MANDOLINALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE and BROOKLYN.

When I tell you Stella Fortuna was a special girl, I hope you aren’t thinking small-town special. Other people would underestimate Stella Fortuna during her long life, and not one of them didn’t end up regretting it.

Hundred-year-old Stella Fortuna sits alone in her house in Wethersfield, Connecticut, crocheting blankets and angrily ignoring her sister, Tina, who lives across the street. Born into abject poverty in an Italian village, Stella Fortuna’s name might mean Lucky Star, but for the last century, her life has been defined by all the times she might have died. Up until now, Stella’s close bond with her sister has been one of the few things to survive her tumultuous life, but something has happened, and nobody can understand what it might be. Does the one life and many (near) deaths of Stella Fortuna have secrets still to be revealed, even to those who believe they are closest to her?

By turns a family saga, a ghost story, and a coming-of cranky-old-age tale, Juliet Grames’s THE SEVEN OR EIGHT DEATHS OF STELLA FORTUNA lays bare the costs of migration and patriarchal values, but also of the love and devotion that can sustain a family through generations, in a sprawling 20th century saga of a young woman with a fire inside her which cannot be put out.

~*~

Books with this kind of title seem to be a kind of trend right now – The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (by different authors), and now The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames, which covers one hundred years of a life that begins in a Calabrian village, and finishes the story in Hartford, Connecticut. Stella Fortuna’s many near death experiences are a mystery – how she survives being eviscerated, being crushed by a door, bleeding out and many other near misses including fate intervening to ensure she does not board a ship that goes down at sea with no survivors, to the final almost death as a very old woman. So what causes them? Does her name – Stella Fortuna, which translates to lucky star suggest something more than just pure luck? Is there something keeping her from dying, like a ghost?  Throughout the novel, there is the sense that something is always going to coming, with long lulls that lead into each near death – some very long ones that whilst interesting, perhaps could have been divided up or shortened for ease of reading. However, I can see why each chapter was the length it was as well, so it did work for the story, but page breaks are always nice, so you know when you can set it aside temporarily and come back to find out what is going to happen.

Each event is intricately written – with the reminders of each previous near death forming physically and emotionally for Stella and her family as they see her through her life and deaths, especially her sister Tina, with whom her relationship is constantly changing. At the heart of this rather unique and highly unusual novel is a family saga of immigration, life and death, and secrets that family keeps or questions that do not always have an answer.

I read this in over the course of four hours – so it is engrossing and intriguing, but I’m in two minds about it. On one hand, it is not one I am likely to revisit – despite the intriguing storyline, there were times when I felt like too much was happening to lead up to the death, and perhaps things could have been condensed. I felt like the first births of her children meandered a little, and then the rest were a brief run down to fit them all into the story. For me, whilst a very good chapter, this was one area where I felt some more balance between each child would be useful. However, I can also see that some of them were to play a more significant role towards the end than others, and that is why more time was spent on them.

My other thought it that this is the kind of book that someone might need to read a couple of times to fully appreciate it and understand – to peel back the layers, so to speak. Given there are many books like this out there, I may not have the chance to revisit this one and take everything in for a second time, but I do believe there is an audience out there for this book.

A work of fiction, it is written as though by a relative, a grandchild of Stella, who is never truly identified as Stella recounts her long life and all the strange and intricate events to her as a family history, so it almost reads as a biographical piece throughout. The flow was good – maintained by very little intrusion of the person putting Stella’s story to paper, apart from the beginning and end, where the story is introduced and concluded.

I hope other readers enjoy this book and find something interesting in it.

Blog Tour Part One – Review: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

the french photographerTitle: The French Photographer – Blog Tour

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th March, 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 440

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible true story of Lee Miller, Vogue model turned one of the first female war photojournalists, the new novel by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress

Manhattan, Paris, 1942: When Jessica May’s successful modelling career is abruptly cut short, she is assigned to the war in Europe as a photojournalist for Vogue. But when she arrives the army men make her life as difficult as possible. Three friendships change that: journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules, paratrooper Dan Hallworth takes her to places to shoot pictures and write stories that matter, and a little girl, Victorine, who has grown up in a field hospital, shows her love. But success comes at a price.

France, 2005: Australian curator D’Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to manage a famous collection of photographs. What begins as just another job becomes far more disquieting as D’Arcy uncovers the true identity of the mysterious photographer – and realises that she is connected to D’Arcy’s own mother, Victorine.

Crossing a war-torn Europe from Italy to France, The French Photographer is a story of courage, family and forgiveness, by the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

~*~

I was approached by Hachette to take part in a blog tour for this book and accompanying this review there will be an interview with the author. Both are appearing on the blog today, the tenth of April, in separate posts.

The French Photographer is an exquisitely written book, and though it is only April, has been one of the best books I have read so far this year. Inspired by the true story of Lee Miller, Natasha Lester has created a story that spans the decades between World War Two and 2004, exploring the lives of Victorine, Dan, D’Arcy, and Jess May – her main character – at various stages of their lives and the war.

2019 BadgeJess May starts out as a model for Vogue in New York, when her career takes a tumble, and she finds herself looking for a way to fix her modelling career. World War Two is ramping up around the world, and magazines like Vogue need photo journalists and war correspondents – to report on the war back home, and to raise morale and support for the troops. After much persuasion and fighting, she is attached to a battalion led by Dan Hallworth, who becomes a good friend and confidant, backing her up when Warren Stone and her ex, Emile, try to make trouble for her. Here, we see how one man can ruin a woman’s reputation and career out of jealousy, and how another will do whatever he can to make life incredibly hard for her, whilst a third will back her all the way, and stand up for her whenever he can. Jess rises above it all, and forges her own path, and is a character who shows that she will let nothing, not even prejudice, stop her from achieving her goals.

Amidst the field hospital and camp where Dan and Jess meet, a young girl named Victorine appears, and works her way into Jess’ heart. As the story goes on, Jess and Dan’s relationship evolves, and they become important to Victorine – they become her family. This is a story that explores love, family and friendship in equal measure across the European theatre of war in Italy and France, and how it affected those who lived through it.

I first came to Natasha Lester’s books with The Paris Seamstress, published in 2018, and was hooked. When I read this one, I was pleased to see a little link back to The Paris Seamstress, bringing a smile to my face as I read. Jess May is a character who is brave and bold. She is modern and enthusiastic, and doesn’t allow anything to stop her, but at the same time, acknowledges the challenges she must face in achieving her goal. While men like Emile and Warren Stone make it difficult for her, people like Dan Hallworth, Martha Gellhorn, and Victorine encourage her in different ways, and support her. They show her a family and love in a world of violence and tragedy. Victorine and Jess, and Dan quickly became my favourite characters, especially Victorine. She is adorable, and seemingly innocent but what she has seen shapes her and her world. At the same time, she is still a child and has a sense of innocence about her that is endearing and also, heartbreaking.

Through Victorine, we see war through the eyes of a child, and through Jess, we see how war affects women in various ways – from camps, to war correspondents and everything in between. And finally, through Dan, war through the eyes of a soldier. Combined, these make for a story that is equally as powerful as Dan and Jess’s relationship.

What I liked about Jess and Dan, is that their relationship starts out with respect and friendship – it doesn’t force their love. I liked how they let that evolve naturally, because it felt very realistic and seeing a friendship between a man and a woman in fiction was beautiful to read. Of course, there are meddling characters like Amelia, and seedy characters like Warren Stone who I hated, but they were so well written as well – and this made them excellent characters.

There were many scenes that sucked the breath from my lungs, but I think the liberation of an unnamed camp that held Jews, women and political prisoners, and how this affected Dan, Jess and those with them, is one of the most powerful, alongside their capture of Hitler’s Berlin residence. It gives the story gravitas, and a distinct darker side that shows just how awful the war was and how far reaching its affects were physically and emotionally.

The complexity and diversity of characters ensured this wasn’t a simple story – there were layers upon layers that had to be peeled back and revealed slowly to discover the secrets and lead us to what eventually happened with Dan and Jess. The ending was bittersweet, yet realistic, and I feel fitted in well with the rest of the story.

Filled with moments of joy, heartache, and horror, The French Photographer has much more to offer than just a love story, and to me, that is the best part: the complex characters, how they deal with war and life, and everything in between. This gives the story its true power and is definitely one I want to revisit.

Vardaesia (Medoran Chronicles #5) byLynette Noni

Vardaesia (Medoran Chronicles #5) byLynette Noni

Vardaesia_3D-Cover.pngTitle: Vardaesia (Medoran Chronicles #5)

Author: Lynette Noni

Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult

Publisher: Pantera Press

Published: 18th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 500

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: “When Day and Night combine and fight against one Enemy, then Dark and Light shall meet mid-strike and set the Captives free.”

In the wake of loss and devastation, Alex must cast aside her grief to seek aid from those who banished the Meyarins long ago. But the proud Tia Aurans care little for the woes of mortals and demand that Alex—and her friends—undergo the Gates of Testing to prove their world is worth saving.

With an ancient prophecy looming, Alex must confront the secrets of her past if she is to survive long enough to see the future. For if she returns to Medora without the Tia Aurans by her side, all hope will be lost.

In this explosive conclusion to The Medoran Chronicles, the fate of Medora hangs in the balance as Alex readies herself to face Aven one final time.

Who will survive, and who will fall?

“If, however, darkness wins, there is no strategy to keep from all that will be lost, and so will always be.”

~*~

Alex’s journey to save Medora from Aven Dalmarta is about to conclude, and the question of whether or not she will succeed hangs in the air as she faces yet more challenges and tragedies. Within days after the final events of Graevale, Alex and her friends are thrust into the Tia Auran world, where they must face the Gates of Testing together over a week. In undergoing these tests, Alex hopes to prove to the Tia Aurans that the humans and other mortal races of Medora are worthy of assistance from the Tia Aurans in their fight against Aven – which at the opening of the novel, feels as futile as it has for the past four books and the recent novella. As they venture through each of the gates, tested beyond their individual and collective limits, they are unaware of what is happening back home with everyone that they love and hold dear. Throughout the series, there has been a foreboding and trepidation with what is to come, and the prophecy has always lingered in the back of Alex’s mind. And finally, we are going to get our answers – will Alex and her friend succeed, or will Aven rule over all?

2019 Badge

I’ve been with this series since the beginning, way back in 2015 when I undertook an internship with the publisher, Pantera Press, and it is to this series, its author, Lynette Noni, and Ali and the gang at Pantera Press I have to thank for getting me wholeheartedly into my book blogging journey, which keeps me pretty busy these days. Anyway, back to the book! I was expecting it to be an emotional rollercoaster, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for some of those chapter cliff-hangers that cropped up – and that kept me reading to make sure everyone would be okay – if only for a chapter or two until the next time. There are many heart-pounding moments, and many moments that had me staring at the page hoping the worst would not happen. During one of the trials, one of my favourite lines in the whole series cropped up, spoken by Alex in defiance of the Tia Aurans:

“The surest way to become a monster is to follow in their footsteps.”

 

 

At this point, Alex reveals her strength and vulnerability – her strength of resisting the adhere to sadistic, cold desires of an immortal race, who seem to care little about the world they are part of, and her human vulnerability of love for those she holds dear, even someone she has known for a mere week whilst in Tia Auras. This is what I love about her – that she has flaws and she even embraces them at times, and jokes about them with her friends. Yet she knows that there is strength within love – and it is her love for her family, friends and Medora that will spur her on to the end, even when all seems lost.

The final climactic chapters are so fast paced, it feels like they are flying past, and to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important, I flicked back once or twice – worried I had missed an important aspect of the battle or a move Aven had made – or even just to make sure I had read something correctly, as the next lines sometimes came as a  huge shock – in more ways than one. There’s laughing, tears, and everything in between – with moments of momentary peace between the trials and battles as friends and family regroup and come to terms with the changes in their world, the changes to come. It is a perfect ending to the series, where all the threads from the rest of the series are all brought together in a finale that ensures wrapping up the series gives closure for readers and will always be a favourite.

Vardaesia is out on the 18th of February in paperback and e-book from Pantera Press.

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Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

hey brother.jpgTitle: Hey Brother

Author: Jarrah Dundler

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A genuine and compellingly portrayed family drama of a tough kid from rural Australia.

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble.

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay.

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble.

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge.

~*~

Hey Brother is set in the early 2000s, just after 9/11. Trysten Black’s brother, Shaun, has gone over to fight against the Taliban with the Australian and US armies, leaving Shaun at home to take care of their mother, whose troubles with alcohol scare, and worry them both, but also tells him to keep out of trouble – easy, right? Trysten reckons it will be – until a new girl – Jessica – starts in his year. Together with best friend Ricky, who has a crush on the girl who befriends Jessica, Jade, As the months go on, the boys get to know Jessica and Jade, and even begin to hang out together at school. On top of this, Trysten must look out for his Mum, and keep an eye on his uncle, who has come to stay while Shaun is away.

As he tries to care for his mother, and make sure he gets along with his uncle, Trevor, Trysten’s promise to stay out of trouble seems to be forgotten between this and building his relationship with Jessica – and when Shaun returns home, Trysten’s family will be tested – his father, who has lived away from the home for months, seems to have a change of heart, and his mother is improving. But there’s something about Shaun that Trysten can’t quite put his finger on, and a party, and the subsequent events during the summer holidays will bring to a head everything that has been building with Shaun and reveal secrets about the family that Trysten never knew about or saw coming, and revelations about the world and their lives show things will never be the same.

Hey Brother is a coming of age story, set in the early years of the twenty-first century, when terrorism entered our world, and how we all reacted to it – how some of our worlds didn’t change, how as a teenager, Trysten’s mind was often on school, Jessica, his friends and his family, rather than a faraway attack and war. He is the go-between messenger for his parents, and it looks at how war can affect soldiers – at the way Shaun comes home and tells a story one way, but the reality is quite different and the PTSD that he brings back with him – something Uncle Trevor notices and does his best to help with. As mental illness and alcohol abuse are explored through Trysten’s eyes, as a child narrator he comes across as mature at times, and immature at others, perhaps hinting at how fast he is having to grow up and adapt to this new, uncharted territory his family finds themselves in, coupled with hormones and the influences of friends, his and his brother’s, as well as events that trigger the climax, and how Trysten finds himself dealing with the fallout.

The genre of this book is hard to pin down – I’ve marked it as literary fiction but is it young adult, adult or does it cross those two distinctions? Possibly, but I think that will depend on the individual. It was an interesting take on a modern war and its fallout, and a modern family dealing with personal issues and secrets that come out towards the end. It is raw and emotional and shows that we are all just human and anything can affect us in different ways at any time, and nobody is immune to the fragility of the mind and the way it processes things.

In some ways I liked this book and what it did, though it is not one I plan to revisit too quickly like others. It is one that needs time and processing between reads to maintain the impact it can have. It does reveal something about Australia and our culture, attitudes to war and how we deal with things like mental health, and these are important conversations to have, and I hope Jarrah Dundler’s work is one that helps start these discussions amongst people.

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The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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