Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review: The Darkest Hour by Barbara Erskine


Love is as uncertain and as untameable as war... 

In the summer of 1940, most eyes are focussed on the skies above the South of England. The battle for Britain has just begun. But young Evie Lucas has eyes for no-one but a dashing young pilot called Tony. Evie has a glittering career as an artist ahead of her but seems to be wasting her time sketching endless portraits of Tony. She wants his parents to have something to remember him by in case it all goes wrong in the war... 

Seventy years later, and recently widowed art historian Lucy is trying to put the pieces of her life back together. And in order to do that, Lucy needs to uncover the mystery surrounding a painting in her home. But as she accidentally ends up stirring up a hornet's nest of history which has been deliberately obliterated, Lucy finds herself in danger from people past and present who have no intention of letting an untold truth ever surface.

HarperCollins Publishers | July 2014 | 400 pages | ISBN: 9780007513130

My Review

I've been a fan of Barbara Erskine since reading her wonderful historical novel Child of the Phoenix many years ago.  As such, I always look forward to the release of a new Barbara Erskine book.  Like many of her earlier novels, Erskine's latest release, The Darkest Hour, is a dual-time narrative. The present day storyline concerns Lucy Standish, an art historian who recently lost her husband, as she attempts to write a biography of a prominent World War II artist about whom little is known.  The historical narrative focuses on Evie Lucas, a young woman looking to make her mark as an artist as the Battle of Britain commences. When Evie's path crosses with that of handsome pilot Tony Anderson, she turns her attention to him and the hopes that they can build a life together. But not everyone is happy about Evie's blossoming relationship with Tony, including one person who will stop at nothing to keep them apart forever.  As Lucy begins to dig deeper into Evie's life and slowly starts to uncover some it its secrets, it soon becomes apparent that the past is reaching out into the present to prevent the truth of Evie's life from ever being known.

The Darkest Hour is a relatively quick-moving tale that, at times, I didn't want to put down. Both Evie and Lucy are engaging, as are many of the novel's secondary characters, especially those in Lucy's portion of the narrative.  A key component to the success of dual-time narratives is ensuring that the reader is never jolted out of the story when it transitions between the modern-day and historical narratives.  As one of the masters of the dual-time narrative, Erskine's transitions are always smooth.  As is the case with most of Erskine's other dual-time narratives, there is an element of the paranormal that is weaved throughout the book.  I liked this element for the most part, and found it kept me eagerly turning the pages, but did find it to be a little much at times, leaving me with the impression that certain parts of the narrative had become too fantastic for a non-fantasy novel. 

While several of my favourite books are dual-time narratives, I usually have a distinct preference for one storyline over the other, and it's usually the historical narrative I'm most drawn to.  In the case of The Darkest Hour, however, I preferred the modern-day storyline. While I liked both Lucy and Evie as characters, it was Lucy's quest to uncover the truth about Evie's life that I found most intriguing.   My only real criticism of the novel is that the ending felt too rushed. While the novel concluded as I expected (and wanted), I was ultimately left unsatisfied by how quickly everything was resolved and wish the ending had not wrapped up quite so quickly. 

While I don't think The Darkest Hour is Erskine's best book, fans of her previous novels (as well as those interested in dual-time narratives in general) should still find much to like in this book.     

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: Purchased

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