The Amber Shadows
by Lucy Ribchester
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 7th April 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 464
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
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…
Last year, next to Anna McPartlin’s „The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes”, Lucy Ribchester’s debut novel „The Hourglass Factory” was one of my absolute Top Ten reads. I couldn’t stop thinking and talking about the book, and between this thinking and talking I was impatiently waiting for Lucy’s next book, and as soon as I’ve heard news that „The Amber Shadows” is going to be published, I started to count the days to its publication day.
And with „The Amber Shadows” Lucy Ribchester only went and proved that she’s already found her fantastic, distinctive voice in historical fiction and I’d really advice you to just go and buy her books – they’re brilliant! And both are really very different, which is a great thing. By different I mean that even though both novels are historical fiction, they are both set in different times, they have totally different characters and plots and I love this, because it only shows that the author can write whatever she wants and it’s going to be a hooking, interesting, brilliantly researched story.
The story centres around coding, codes, ciphers and secrets. I will be honest with you, I’m really bad at such things, so seeing how this all is working made the book only better for me. It is fascinating and it is amazing how many codes there exist in the world, and how the minds of people who break them are working, and the author has described it precisely, but also in not too technical way, and even I was able to understand everything – which says something about the author’s talent to write about such complicated things.
Honey was a very strong, expressive character with a very distinctive voice and I didn’t have problems to warm to her from the very beginning. She works at Bletchley Park, transcribing the broken codes into messages, and I find her job fascinating. OK, maybe not as fascinating as breaking the codes itself, but nevertheless important and significant, though the author didn’t emphasize the meaning of the job so much. The atmosphere in Park is weird, people can’t trust other people, there are a lot of bans and orders and sometimes it made me feel really paranoid, when it was told you can’t speak with other people, you can’t go to other Hut and you must principally be very careful. And then Honey is handed a parcel by a strange man, a parcel that was delivered to the wrong Hut by mistake. It seems to be posted from Leningrad, even though Leningrad is currently under siege and it’s impossible to send packages from there, but still, the parcel has a right stamp and Cyrillic. Honey finds a small piece of amber in there – why did she receive this parcel? How? Is it about her father? Who is sending these packages – because there are more to come. Is it connected with Honey’s background that’s a little complicated, what with the confusing information she gets from her mother and brother about her father? But even more confusion is going to come.
Lucy Ribchester has portrayed Honey in a very believable way and she really well described all the feelings she felt, the confusion and distrust. Sure, Honey seemed a little confused and she seemed to believe in anything that was told to her, and it was only later that she started to doubt and asked questions, but she was young and she didn’t have a reason not to believe in the things her family told her. She was forced to undergo a crash course in maturity, she was brave and spirited and even though I didn’t feel a great connection with her, I still fell for her and kept my fingers crossed for her.
Also the other characters are incredibly well written. They are all very complex personalities, not at all straightforward and I really liked it. Their presence added tons to the story and they were all very convincing and realistic in the way they acted, though I missed a little what really happened with Moira.
However, I couldn’t help thinking that the story drag a little and that there is much too much about things that are not so significant for the plot. It was a very complex novel, not too straightforward, and it was really hard to find what IS the main point of it: is it Honey herself? Her discovering that her family history is one big lie? Her life and work at Bletchley Park? The mysterious parcels that she keeps getting? Sure, all the things are really brilliantly connected and they intertwine in the most comfortable, easy to follow way, but the main thing was – for me at least – too hidden, buried under the many sub – plots. But please, don’t get me wrong, it was a hell of a great story, and even with the end that seemed much to rushed in comparison to the whole book, I was hooked and wanted to know what is the secret, who’s sending the mysterious parcels, what do they mean and what’s Honey’s story. And I really appreciate the way the book was written and how well all the secrets were weaved into the story, how gently and in the right moments the author gave us a hint, how not obvious the story is and how gripping and full of suspense Lucy Ribchester made the book. I truly didn’t know who can I trust and who not, and Ms Ribchester kept me in dark till the end of the story, in fact, when really all the pieces of the puzzle fit together
The other aspect of me loving historical fiction so much is the fact that I can always learn something new. The idea of Bletchley Park is not new to me however I’ve never heard more about it. And even though this novel is completely fictional, and the author admits that the buildings, the jobs, the codes are a part of her imagination, it still sounded so very realistic and true, and Ms Ribchester has really brought this place to life, with all the description and creating this really exceptional, full of tension and secrets atmosphere. She truly brings the details of everyday life in Bletchley, and she does it in a very convincing, realistic way, but the most fantastic thing that she did with the book is the fact that the atmosphere of secrecy, distrust, confusion is palpable through the pages and I had a feeling it’s enveloping me as well.
The other thing that hit me so hard when reading the book was the fact that, even in war, you couldn’t trust your own people. I also couldn’t comprehend why so many secrets and why did the people make their lives even more complicated with them – it was so extreme that people working in Bletchley Park were not allowed to visit other Huts, and really, the secretive atmosphere is really well captured, and there came a moment that I really didn’t know who is the bad and who is the good one, and what is happening. It’s no wonder that Honey wasn’t sure what’s happening as well, and she didn’t know with whom she can talk, as often talking to the „wrong” people and doing the „wrong” things led to very serious consequences.
I enjoyed „The Amber Shadows” very much, though not as much as „The Hourglass Factory”. I’m sorry, but even though the books are very different, I can’t stop comparing them – I usually don’t compare books by the same author but this time it’s just that „The Hourglass Factory” was one of the best books I have ever read. This debut novel was for me much more vivid and colourful and „The Amber Shadows” felt in comparison a little flatter and not as full of action and events. But altogether, Lucy Ribchester has again written a masterpiece of historical fiction and she can really incredibly well capture atmosphere of the times she sets her novels in. An exceptionally well researched and you can feel how much feeling and heart the author put in every word, „The Amber Shadows” is for sure not a book to miss – I highly recommend it to you all!