Title: The Metal Heart
Author: Caroline Lea
Genres: Historical Fiction
Expected Publication Date: April 29th 2021 by Michael Joseph
Source: thanks to @Michael Joseph (a penguin imprint)
Orkney, 1940. On a remote island, a prisoner-of-war camp is constructed to house five hundred Italian soldiers. Upon arrival, a freezing Orkney winter and divided community greets them.
Orphaned sisters Dorothy and Constance volunteer to nurse the men. Dot is immediately drawn to Cesare, a young man fighting on the wrong side and broken by war and destruction.
But as the war drags on, tensions between the islanders and the outsiders deepen, and Dorothy’s connection to Cesare threatens the bond she shares with Constance. Since the loss of their parents, the sisters have relied on each other. Now, their loyalty will be tested, each forced to weigh duty against desire . . . until, one fateful evening, a choice must be made, one that that will have devastating consequences.
The blurb makes it seem as if this is a piece of romantic fiction, but there is more here than just a love story. Constance is a broken women, scared of all men, and she has her reasons. She appears to be suffering from what we would now recognize as PTSD. Her abuser is working on the same tiny island as her and she can’t avoid him forever. He is the
villain of the story and a character you can love to hate. A brutal man who’s idea of love is beating a woman into submission. He is the cause of Con’s disgrace and the reason why the two sisters are hiding out on the island in the first place.
This is a book about how beauty can be created out of war and how love can flourish in the most unlikely of circumstances. This is also a book about twins, and how despite being born with the same genetics, life choices and experience have moulded them into two very different women. About how they cope with the grief of losing their parents and the struggles of being at war.
One of the key themes that seem to run the author’s works are the way in which the sea shapes the people around it, and how a respect of the ocean is an essential piece of self preservation. Death by drowning being the most common way to die in her books so far, but I guess growing up on the island of Jersey has left it’s mark.
The narrative stars with the sinking of a warship by a German submarine and the twin’s subsequent rescue of several sailors not all of who it make it. This changes one of the twins far more than the other.
The story is told in the third person first from Dot’s perspective but as the narrative develops we read the inner thoughts of the other twin Con, Cesare one of the Italian POW’s and from the townspeople collectively known as the Orcadians.
But this book is at heart a love story, and a good one.
One minor thing that bugged me was the cover, ok it is beautiful don’t get me wrong, but the lighthouse which takes the central position isn’t found anywhere in the story, but maybe that’s just me nitpicking.
The ending was great with the many twists and turns before it climaxing in a satisfying way but leaving some of it open to the reader’s imagination.
The island itself is almost a character. We are told that it is cursed and that anybody who lives on it suffer the consequences and at the beginning of the book the twins are alone there. But the arrival of 1000 men changes it forever.
Suitable For: Adults and Possibly Older Teenagers
Sex: Some but none graphic
Violence: Quite a bit, both remembered and current
Drug Reference: None
Swearing: None that I can remember
A great piece of WW2 historical fiction about an aspect of the war that is rarely mentioned. And a love story to boot.
Caroline Lea was born and raised on the island of Jersey, she attended Warwick University where she got a first in Literature and Creative Writing. She then went on to teaching to fund her writing habit. She has two boys and has shared her trials with this on Twitter: “Writing while trying to parent is like trying to knit a scarf while looking after psychotic kittens“. Her debut novel When the Sky Fell Apart is about the occupation of Jersey during WW2 and looks really interesting her second book The Glass Woman is an atmospheric tale set in medieval Iceland. She tweets @CarolineleaLea and she has a facebook page.