Categories
Historical Fiction Young Adult

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for my free copy of The Silent Unseen in exchange for an honest review! I don’t remember entering this raffle. I also don’t regret the read, even if it ultimately fell flat for me

I am a terribly myopic history reader, so a book about WW2 era Ukraine + Poland + Russia was hard to put into context.  Apparently the Germans were mining the area for slave labor and worse, and once they left, the Russians were coming in to mop up the forces still fighting (Polish transplants vs native Ukrainians)?

This is the setting, with Maria and Kostya on two very different sides of what seem like the same page, yet having to work together. Both had villages ruined by war, dead family, and were fighting for whatever they had left.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  •  Title: The Silent Unseen
  • Author: Amanda McCrina
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar Strauss & Giroux (BYR) April, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek—who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East.

When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts—even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

Tightly woven, relentlessly intense, The Silent Unseen depicts an explosive entanglement of loyalty, lies, and love during wartime

I feel like this book is SUPER YA and missed it’s emotional impact due to the rushed and somewhat silly romance and ending. While I learned of some of the horrors (forced labor and murders and kidnappings and such) that happened, I had trouble with the broader historical context.

First let me say a few good things.  It was a quick read and the action (if not confusing at times) was constant.  I couldn’t keep the three resistance/military groups apart in my head very well without understanding their conflict and governmental reach.  It was an exciting plot though and I would like to know more about this area during the end of WW2.

Also I liked the characters.  Maria was brave and a little silly at times (like a teen) but I liked that she and Kostya showed both their strong and scared kid sides.  That made them feel like real people.

I wasn’t buying the romance though, not one bit, not at all. Even becoming friends would have been challenging for the two main characters, and meaningful, but they hadn’t even trusted each other before they started having feelings and it went from enemy to romance nearly instantaneously.

I also think the book wrapped up super quickly like it just glossed over the plot points towards the end, not explaining a lot.of things, and then ended. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel but this ending was just silly to me and felt like it shrugged off the gravity of the rest of the novel.  That said though, the author probably did not want to leave YA readers feeling depressed afterwards so she gave all of the characters something to be hopeful about.

I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either. Would recommend for YA / WW2 readers who like YA romance elements.  The content (minus some violent acts and descriptions of violent acts) is appropriate for the age group and I think she left a lot of room for a sequel in Kostya’s storyline.

Categories
Adventure Historical Fiction

The New Kingdom (ARC Review) by Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn

Thank you so much to Zaffre and Bookish First for the opportunity to read yet another new Wilbur Smith novel!

I swear by Smith’s historical fiction, with it’s  unapologetic brutality and what I feel is probably a pretty honest portrayal of how things would have been.  By all accounts his novels are well researched, plus always an interesting adventure whether the book is read in order or as a standalone.

That said, I will admit to seeing a huge difference in the writing quality of this installment vs. the original Smith novels.  If I remember correctly this one fits in sometime around Warlock, or it crunches the events of a few books…. Heck maybe I need a reread

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The New Kingdom
  • Series: Ancient Egypt, #7
  • Author: Wilbur Smith & Mark Chadbourn
  • Publisher & Release: Zaffre, 9/7/21
  • Length: 432 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of HistFic and adventure

Here is the description:

In the heart of Egypt,
Under the watchful eye of the Gods,
A new power is rising . . .

In the city of Lahun, Hui lives an enchanted life. The favoured son of a doting father, and ruler-in-waiting of the great city, his fate is set. But behind the beautiful façades a sinister evil is plotting. Craving power and embittered by jealousy, Hui’s stepmother, the great sorceress Ipsetnofret, and Hui’s own brother Qen, orchestrate the downfall of Hui’s father, condemning Hui and seizing power in the city.

Cast out and alone, Hui finds himself a captive of a skilled and powerful army of outlaws, the Hyksos. Determined to seek vengeance for the death of his father and rescue his sister, Ipwet, Hui swears his allegiance to these enemies of Egypt. Through them he learns the art of war, learning how to fight and becoming an envied charioteer.

But soon Hui finds himself in an even greater battle – one for the very heart of Egypt itself. As the pieces fall into place and the Gods themselves join the fray, Hui finds himself fighting alongside the Egyptian General Tanus and renowned Mage, Taita. Now Hui must choose his path – will he be a hero in the old world, or a master in a new kingdom?

Smith saw potential in the Hui character and wrote him a history/spinoff story, possibly series.  I totally 100% endorse this decision and can’t wait to see what the next one holds.

While each and every one of Smith’s books can be read as a standalone, the cameos in The New Kingdom are there along with quite a few easter eggs for returning readers.  I thought Taita’s eyes would fall off his face from rolling them so much.

Despite solid pacing and excitement throughout, I thought the book didn’t quite deliver on the synopsis. The Ka stone and the Gods were hinted to be a big part of the novel and to avoid spoilers, I will just say that I wanted more from both of those topics.

I wanted more from Hui becoming a charioteer as well, but I believe we will see the fruits of that in the next novel.

I liked watching Hui come so close to losing his true self. He was so sweetly naive until his family’s betrayal. Then he became a thief, a guard, a Little Rat, then a killer, and finally, in an amazing scene, a hardened captain.  Throughout the book Fareed, a scout, was a static character but acted as a soul mirror for Hui.  A running theme throughout the book was to find out how much humanity Hui retained through all his trials, and in another amazing scene Smith showed that through it all Hui never did lose his true self.

Smith is not an author for inner monologue but Hui is a fairly deep and interesting character.

Tanus and Taita, well, all I can say is go read the other Ancient Egypt books.

Tim Holland wrote a great afterward to provide a broad historical context for the characters, and I almost wish it had been presented as a forward.  It makes sense that with thousands of years of peace and prosperity, Egypt felt pretty invincible.

The other thing that makes these books seem so realistic is how well Smith brings the climate, setting, and mood of the populace into play: whether in a baking desert, war-torn city, refugee camp, or Pharaoh’s palace, I feel like I can picture those sun burnt dripping slaves and sandstorm, midden heaps and incense, terrified citizens… For historical fiction and immersion these things always feel important to me

The only other thing I would have asked for was either section breaks or dates, because it was very hard to tell how much time was passing between major events and I feel like that information would have been helpful to the story.

Overall, not Smith’s best but another very solid book.  He is one of my auto buy authors.  Definitely and always recommend for HistFic readers and adventure lovers.