All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth

on July 6, 2022

The Crimson Thread
Kate Forsyth
Penguin Books AUS
2022, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In Crete during World War II, Alenka, a young woman who fights with the resistance against the brutal Nazi occupation, finds herself caught between her traitor of a brother and the man she loves, an undercover agent working for the Allies.

May 1941. German paratroopers launch a blitzkrieg from the air against Crete. They are met with fierce defiance, the Greeks fighting back with daggers, pitchforks, and kitchen knives. During the bloody eleven-day battle, Alenka, a young Greek woman, saves the lives of two Australian soldiers.

Jack and Teddy are childhood friends who joined up together to see the world. Both men fall in love with Alenka. They are forced to retreat with the tattered remains of the Allied forces over the towering White Mountains. Both are among the seven thousand Allied soldiers left behind in the desperate evacuation from Crete’s storm-lashed southern coast. Alenka hides Jack and Teddy at great risk to herself. Her brother Axel is a Nazi sympathiser and collaborator and spies on her movements.

As Crete suffers under the Nazi jackboot, Alenka is drawn into an intense triangle of conflicting emotions with Jack and Teddy. Their friendship suffers under the strain of months of hiding and their rivalry for her love. Together, they join the resistance and fight to free the island, but all three will find themselves tested to their limits. Alenka must choose whom to trust and whom to love and, in the end, whom to save. 

A new Kate Forsyth book is always cause to celebrate. I have read almost all of her adult books (I think there are a couple that have escaped me) and they are always rich with history and mythology with wonderful characters and more often than not, very compelling love stories woven in. This one is set a little more in recent times than most of the previous ones I have read, with Kate Forsyth choosing to tell the story of the Nazi invasion of the Greek island of Crete during the Second World War, which was something that I didn’t know a lot about before reading this book. It has come up a couple of times briefly in other books I’ve read but I think this might be the first book I’ve read that focused pretty much solely on the Nazi occupation of Crete and what that was like both for the locals and also Allied forces who were trying to repel the invasion and then later on, returned to drive the Nazis out.

The story mostly revolves around three main characters: Alenka, a local of Crete who lives near the ruins of a palace in Knossos where the remains of the famous labyrinth remain. In better times Alenka worked as a curator and translator at the Knossos dig. She speaks multiple languages and in 1941, meets separately, two Australian soldiers stationed on Crete, Teddy and Jack. They’re best friends from Victoria although they are very different. Teddy is brash and confident, determined to make Alenka ‘his girl’. Jack is quieter and struggles with a stutter. The three become intertwined – Teddy and Jack are part of the official fight against the Germans but Alenka is part of an underground one, deep in the resistance by the locals against their invaders (and later, occupiers). Alenka has the added complication of the fact that her younger brother is half German and sees the coming invasion as a way for him to connect with them and he’s willing to do anything to ingratiate himself with the soldiers.

I really enjoyed this – I read the majority of it in a single sitting and found that for the most part, I could not put it down. Alenka is a wonderful character and her inner conflict about her brother is showcased really well. I liked the juxtaposition of Teddy and Jack and although I did not particularly like one of the characters, nor their attitude at all, I appreciated the trouble Forsyth took to make their friendship complicated. They are almost lifelong friends, having been friends since they were boys and joined up together and are fighting together. They are very different though and that does become a source of conflict within the story centring around both of them having an attraction to Alenka. All three of them take significant risks and end up in dangerous situations multiple times. Alenka’s role in the resistance was very interesting to read about – a lot of WWII stories showcase small (and large) ways in which local populations resisted the invading forces and their rebellions and wins are heartening. The Germans seemed to definitely underestimate the difficulty of the terrain as well as the tenacity of the locals and towards the end, they are becoming stretched in too many locations, invading too many places. There’s a lot of brutality that German soldiers are known for and some of that is showcased here but not blatantly.

A lot of the book is quite fast paced – the fact that the characters are often in danger or under threat in some way adds to this frantic feeling and it makes for a very quick read as well, as you find yourself wanting to know what is going to happen next. I’d definitely advise reading the Author’s Note at the back of the book as well, which gives some great context to some of the events and inclusions of the story. There’s also a lot that happens that is quite subtle – such as the story of Alenka’s mother and honestly, that could’ve almost been a book on its own! I also haven’t really mentioned the mythological aspect, which tied in so nicely to a lot of the reading I have been doing lately, which gave me a great solid background for a lot of the history included in this book.

This felt just so perfectly researched – reading it, it feels like you’re on Crete, experiencing this with all the locals. A wonderful book.

8/10

Book #110 of 2022

This book counts for my 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, hosted by Marg @ The Intrepid Reader. It is book #34 of the challenge.

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2 responses to “Review: The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth

  1. Marg says:

    I do love a Kate Forsyth books, although I am at least a couple of books behind!

    Thanks for sharing this with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

  2. Victor says:

    Alenka is a diminutive for the Slavonic name Alena. It sounds a bit bizarre when an adult person is called this way by strangers. Why the author chose this name for her main character? Maybe some references to childhood.

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