The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe
|The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Exciting WWII drama following on from Diney's The Lost Soldier proving that she's a writer who can create that reading touch of historical fiction heaven.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: August 2016|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
|External links: Author's website|
On her 21st birthday Adelaide discovers a family she wasn't aware of: a Mother Superior aunt in a French convent and a father who died in WWI rather than Richard - her mother's husband and the man who raised her. Adeline decides to go to France for a short holiday in order to learn more from her aunt whom her family knew as Sarah Hunt. Both Sarah and Adelaide part, hoping that they will see each other again soon and they will, but in circumstances that neither of them envisaged. As the Second World War begins and Germany captures France, there's danger ahead for each of them.
I remember reading Diney Costeloe's The Lost Soldier and thinking that, if she'd stuck with the historical setting rather than switching with a modern one, it would be wondrous rather than just good. Well, by happy coincidence, in this, the follow-up book (originally published as Death's Dark Vale almost 10 years ago), it's just what Diney did and the outcome is women's historical fiction heaven.
It's definitely a follow-up and, although easily readable as a one-off, it would contains spoilers if read before The Lost Soldier so I definitely encourage you to read them in order.
The first book took us through World War I and the story of upper middle class Sarah and her brother. This time Sarah the Reverend Mother shares the limelight with her niece and the brutality of life in France under the Nazis in general and the SS in particular.
Adelaide is definitely a chip off the old block. Like her aunt before her, when war breaks out she ignores the exemption that upper society womanhood offers her and gets into the thick of it. Adelaide's destiny isn't as safe as Sarah's WWI nursing choice, but then that became more Sarah didn't get an easy ride, and neither of the two is in for one now.
I was so involved with the story that I only realised when I'd finished just how clever Diney is. It takes a lot to be able to make the connections and plot lines in this novel flow together without the workings showing. I won't give anything away, but I was impressed at how coincidences and machinations of fate feel just that rather than manipulated moments.
In addition to that, Diney is excellent at pacing and introducing historical factors. Anyone who feels that women's hist fict is a simplified genre sub-set would definitely need a rethink after this. Not only does the author add layers of historical complications that serve the story well (e.g. Sarah's nationality), there are some totally unexpected period surprises. For instance the nuns' differing views of the German occupation, poles apart but each nun being able to justify their viewpoint from the standpoint of a faith that contains the same tenets.
There are also little nuances built into the enemy. Colonel Hock may be a typical SS officer, raising the fear level of the story somewhat. However German officer Thielen is more subtle, as demonstrated by the glimpses we see of how he must have been before the war.
The Sisters of St Croix is definitely the culmination of the treat we were promised in The Lost Soldier and most definitely a great self-indulgent read now that the nights are cooling down. In fact if you fancy a night of pyjamas and hot chocolate, this would be the ideal accompaniment.
Thank you to the good folk at Head of Zeus for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: As previously mentioned, do please read The Lost Soldier first. If you'd like more Diney, we try The Throwaway Children or The Girl With No Name. If you're already a fan or would like further tales of WWII France, we recommend The Lavender Keeper by Fiona McIntosh.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe at Amazon.com.
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