Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow

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Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: Childhood friends Andreas, Eleni and Peter find themselves on opposite sides when the Second World War breaks out. Where does friendship end and hatred begin in this historical fiction novel that has an interesting look at the idea of history, but also plays out as a melodrama.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 400 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Headline
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780755380220

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Wars are often written about and the further back you go the more unreal they feel. The description of a Roman Soldier being killed seems to have little impact on our lives today, but, what about Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam? How far must one go back before we feel detached from events? World War Two ended 70 years ago, but it still ripples through to today. There are stories still to be told from this time, but they must be written well and sensitively.

Before the outbreak of war, German teenager Peter spent time on the remote Greek island of Lefkas helping his archaeologist father on a dig. During this time he met Andreas and Eleni, making friends with both of them, but falling in love with one. Only a few years later Peter would return to the island, but this time in the guise of a German solider. Can this friendship last when you are on different sides in a war?

Simon Scarrow is a prolific writer best known for his Marco and Cato Roman novels, but he has written other historic fiction, most notably set during the Napoleonic Wars. Hearts of Stones is a new departure as it is set between 1938-45 and even has some elements of the present day. The Scarrow style of high drama (bordering on the melo) is present, but whilst is fills the likes of Cato/Marco with a sense of heroism, here it feels a little on the nose.

Stone opens not in 1938, but present day London with a teacher who is tasked with investigating her grandmother’s past. The book then jumps between present and past as forgotten memories come to the fore. For historic fiction fans, it could be tempting to skip over the modern elements of the book, but these are some of the best parts. Scarrow uses the dialogue between a history teacher and a scholar to explore the idea of history itself. What is worth remembering of the past; the big events or the lives of everyday people?

With such an emphasis on the study of history, the rest of the book feels a little odd. The story is told via the medium of memories and diaries, sometimes filtered through a third party. As a historian you would consider this a secondary source at best. The story would have had more impact had it been told from the people who were there, as if you the reader were their grandchild. As it is, the book does have elements of this, but it morphs into a more melodramatic and fiction-feeling war story.

The tale of Andreas, Eleni and Peter itself is good, their places of birth doing more to drive them apart than their personalities. The balance between the three is a little off; a lot of time is spent with Andreas on a submarine – a tale told to Eleni and then passed on 70 years later. This third hand information is crammed with well researched and interesting asides, but does not feel like the oral tradition of history that the book could have been.

In the end you have a book that is part study of history, but also a straight historic fiction novel that is not Scarrow’s best. The high action and passions of his Roman set books seem a little out of place in the more modern setting. Stone is a good read; pacy in places and thrilling. It just has some issues with the way that the story is told in terms of narration style and also of being a little hammy.

You can check out Scarrow’s Marco and Cato novels in Praetorian, whilst readers interested in World War Two can try some non-fiction in Escape from the Nazis: The Incredible and Inspiring Saga of Two Young Jews on the Run in World War II Poland by Benjamin Mandelkern.

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Buy Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow at Amazon.com.


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