Monday, 2 May 2016

Review: The Amber Shadows

Rating: 5/5
Buy or Borrow: Buy 
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher, Simon and Schuster! 

Bletchley Park typist Honey Deschamps spends her days at a type-x machine in Hut 6, transcribing the decrypted signals from the German Army, doing her bit to help the British war effort.
Halfway across the world Hitler's armies are marching into Leningrad, leaving a trail of destruction and pillaging the country's most treasured artworks, including the famous Amber Room - the eighth wonder of the world.

As reports begin filtering through about the stolen amber loot, Honey receives a package, addressed to her, carried by a man she has never seen before. He claims his name is Felix Plaidstow and that he works in Hut 3. The package is postmarked from Russia, branded with two censors' stamps. Inside is a small flat piece of amber, and it is just the first of several parcels.
Caught between fearing the packages are a trap set by the authorities to test her loyalty or a desperate cry for help, Honey turns to the handsome enigmatic Felix Plaidstow. But then her brother is found beaten to death in nearby woods and suddenly danger is all around…

I'm going to straight up tell you all that I'm a huge fan of this authors work! I completely and utterly loved her debut book The Hourglass Factory and I've been so excited to see what she does next, and it's like the author read my freaking mind! She seems to know which bits of history fascinate me and that I want to know more about and then makes it her book! Like I said when I reviewed Hourglass Factory...I'm excited to see what she does next, and she's an author that I'll keep an eye on and read pretty much anything she writes! 

As soon as I started reading I immediately found myself getting swept away with the authors writing again, I was right there in every single scene, I could feel the atmosphere, picture what the scene would have looked like and I found myself walking the grounds of Bletchley. I know a fair bit about World War Two, it's the war we studied the most at school, but I still keep finding there are bits I didn't know. For instance, when we took a school trip to learn more about WW2 it was to Berlin we went and we saw the German side, if you will. I had no idea about Bletchley Park until The Imitation Game was released and upon watching that film, I immediately wanted to know more. Then Lucy Ribchester is casually like "oh yeah my next book is Bletchley Park" see why I'm convinced she read my mind! 

The thing I like most about Ribchester's books is that yeah they're fiction, but they're also historical and full of so much fact. There's so much knowledge in this book, woven throughout the narrative and dialogue. You find yourself learning more and more about the time period, the events and what went on at Bletchley without feeling like you're trudging through pages of information. Ribchester's research is immaculate and you can tell just how much research has gone in to it. Not just about the Park, but about the time period. Ribchester writes so authentically, she brings the time period to life with descriptions yes, but also with words. Which makes no sense, but she uses the language and slang of the time to help bring you in to the world and without overusing certain phrases. She uses little tidbits here and there, like an actor from the time period that was popular, a film that everyone saw, food that was eaten, and so on. So you can see how thorough the author's research was, not just on the big stuff, but on the little stuff, so you get an authentic look at the time. I'm honestly in awe of her research skills! 

Honey is an interesting main character, she has a brother who is a CO, Conscientious Objector, and who's a ballet dancer, a mother who is a singer and is singing for the troops (although she's put out she has to sing White Cliffs of Dover), and a step-father who's main business is in soap. I found it interesting to see how Honey has such a musical and kind of eccentric family, yet she herself is rather plain in comparison. She's intelligent, she'd have to be to be at Bletchley, and she has no idea about her father, only what her brother has told her. I felt for her, thinking she was in contact with her father this whole time, and finding out that everything is a lie, everything her brother said was a lie and so on. You root for Honey and can't help but be suspicious when she is and so on. Not to mention when she got in to trouble and had a talking to about being in an "out of bounds area" with a "foreigner" and how it "looks" and got handed a load of pamphlets! 

There's plenty of other characters to bring this story to life, the mysterious Felix from Hut 3 who's not all he seems, Honey's previously mentioned family (I will admit, I was surprised by her step-father, I was expecting someone nasty!), there's a very brief Alan Turing cameo, Moira, the other girls in the hut and so on. All of them are so realistic and so authentic that you feel like you've stepped straight in to the time, and the place. I love how Ribchester writes her characters and brings them to life. 

This book doesn't half make you feel angry as well. You get a front row seat to how women where treated in the time, yeah we were allowed to help out and everything, but we got paid less than the men, I mean, I didn't know that and I really shouldn't have been surprised but there you go! The unfairness to women was insane, especially what happens to Moira, I can't even with what happened to Moira! I felt for her so badly, and she was one of the few friends that Honey had! Although, I can't say I was surprised at the behaviour of that Reuben bloke, we have a family story that reflects what things where like in the War, although we're not actually sure how true it is, because I'm the only one who bothered to research it and I think it's a fairy tale, but still! 

While there's mystery and action, the book isn't all excitement and danger. You learn about the bruises the ladies got from typing so much, how the CO's spent time in prison and how they where generally treated by others. You saw how much everyone was monitored, how bad the rationing was, how bad the looting was. The book somehow takes things you know and makes them hit home more than they do when you read about them in a history book. You have such a sense of unease as you're reading, everyone's always monitored, always watched. It creates an uncomfortable and suspicious atmosphere that is rather infectious as you're reading. 

I loved how the movie Suspicion was twined with the plot of the book, I can't say I've seen the film but it was appropriate and worked so well with the book and the atmosphere for it. The plot kept you guessing, there where twists and turns, and you where suspicious of everyone and trying to work out just what was going on, what was true and what was not, and no matter what you worked where wrong! I loved reading and not knowing what was going to happen next, to be honest, I've found a recent influx of books that are rather predictable! It's a truly brilliant plot line, it has to be said! We also get another fantastic historical note, Ribchester lists plenty of books that you can check out to learn more and other little bits that prove how much research she's put in to the book, in case you where in doubt! 

The Amber Shadows is another fantastic novel from Lucy Ribchester, her writing is on point, the plot is perfect and full of surprises, her research is insane and her characters are authentic and believable, as is the world and setting. Reading this book is like watching a photograph come to life. You know what Bletchley Park looks like, whether you've come across it in your own reading or googled it, you'll have seen a photo of what it looks like and have that image in your mind. Well the author takes that image/photograph and she brings it to life by adding the hustle and bustle, and the characters, and the extras as it where. What was before in your memory, an empty, ghost of a building, is once again busy and full of people as the drama plays out, and you are engrossed until the very end. 

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