I literally just finished reading this book. I’m not even kidding, I finished it about 15 minutes ago. I figured now is probably the best time to write my review, as everything is still fresh in my mind (and I’m short a blog post for this week). It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so forgive me if it’s a bit rusty.
Title: The Amber Shadows
Author: Lucy Ribchester
Genre: Historical Fiction
Date completed: 17 March 2017 (just)
Goodreads rating: 3 stars
On a delayed train, deep in the English countryside, two strangers meet. It is 1942 and they are both men of fighting age, though neither is in uniform. As strangers do in these days of war, they pass the time by sharing their stories. But walls have ears and careless talk costs lives…
At Bletchley Park, Honey Deschamps spends her days at a type-x machine in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army. One winter’s night, as she walks home in the blackout, she meets a stranger in the shadows. He tells her his name is Felix, and he has a package for her.
The parcel, containing a small piece of amber, postmarked from Russia and branded with two censor’s stamps, is just the first of several. Someone is trying to get a message to her, but who? As a dangerous web weaves ever tighter around her, can Honey uncover who is sending these mysterious packages and why before it’s too late…?
This time last year (ok, last February but shhh) I read Lucy Ribchester’s debut novel, The Hourglass Factory, and really enjoyed it. You can read my review of that here. I’d been meaning to pick up her next novel, The Amber Shadows, for about a year, but I hadn’t been able to find it anywhere in Adelaide and then the honours monster came and ate all my reading mojo. When I stumbled across it in Waterstones in January, I bought it without a second thought.
Going into The Amber Shadows, I already knew a few things. 1) I really enjoy Lucy Ribchester’s writing, and 2) I especially enjoyed the way she uses history as a backdrop for fictional stories (aka historical fiction but shh).
All in all, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s so obvious when reading Ribchester’s novels that she REALLY does her research. Bletchley Park is a place still so shrouded in mystery, so it would have been easy to just gloss over the historical details, but The Amber Shadows is impecibly researched. This probably isn’t a bit deal to normal people, but as a history student it’s refreshing to come across historical fiction actually written by someone interested in history.
Once again, I really enjoyed Ribchester’s female characters. Honey was everything she needed to be, simultaneously timid and plucky, and even when she was doing my head in, I still had a soft spot for her. The supporting cast of female characters are wonderfully developed, and it was lovely to read a novel where the female friendships are really at the heart of most of the plot. The male characters were slightly less obviously well-developed (does that even make sense) than the female characters, but this worked into the whole mystery of working at the park, so really added to the plot.
Now, even though I knew The Amber Shadows was a mystery/thriller/murder type story, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so thriller-esque. This is not at all a criticism, it was a wonderful surprise. About 1/3 of the way through the novel, I found myself feeling a bit confused and disjointed, until I realised I’d been reading it wrong. It wasn’t a clear-cut, Midsomer Murders-style who-dun-it, the novel is a proper thriller, where you’re not sure what is real, what is fiction, and what is caused by Honey’s constant stress and lack of sleep (because of the war and working at Bletchley, you know).
The middle did feel as though it dragged slightly, but I didn’t mind and it didn’t really impact the pace I was reading (I read 2/3 of it today, after all). The sub-plots might not all have been necessary, but they were bloody good to read! Other reviewers have critiqued the timelines, or the realism of the plot, but that stuff just doesn’t really bother me. I think The Amber Shadows handles its weaknesses well enough that it doesn’t detract from the reading experience, and there was nothing so glaringly obvious that it threw me out of the story. I sometimes think some people need to chill out a little bit, and remember that they’re reading a story.
I won’t give too much away, but I loved the ended, which I didn’t spot until mere pages before it happened. If I had to criticise, I’d only say that I wish more time had been devoted to really playing out the conclusion, and slightly less time on the sub-plots in the middle.
If you’re looking for some refreshing historical fiction with strong female leads and really inspired (and unique) storylines, look no further than Lucy Ribchester’s books. I can’t wait for the next one.