Phenomenal! I've read a few Tom Palmer books now and after each one I'm awestruck by his ability to make history come alive and resonate emotionally in beautifully compact prose. 'Arctic Star' is a fine example of this. Here Palmer shows us the incredibly harsh conditions experienced by young men in the Arctic Convoy of the Royal Navy in 1943 and the effects it had on their lives. It's written dramatically and sensitively; Palmer's writing sharp like a chisel, finding the heart under the harsh cold of war.
Frank and his friends Joseph and Stephen are a mission with HMS Forgetmenot as part of the Arctic Convoy to deliver supplies to Soviets far north. It is 1943 and the Germans are closing in while the sea is treacherous, freezing and unpredictable. When the mission ends tragically, Frank returns to Plymouth on leave to reassess. Will he have the courage to join HMS Belfast and help turn the tide of the war?
'Arctic Star' has been meticulously researched and it shows: every sentence has a power to reveal the conditions of war but with an underlying sensitivity towards the sailors' experiences. Palmer vividly brings to life Frank's point-of-view, showing us the harsh conditions on board two ships, the dangers of visiting Russia and the emotional weight of returning to Plymouth to see family. All of it rings with such truth that it is like Palmer is reporting on it all directly, that he was there himself. I was gripped by passages where the convoy were under attack by the Germans and then harrowed by the emotional impact it all has on Frank. Because what Palmer does best is find the human heart amid the turmoil of war - the camaraderie between sailors, the inability to express the depth of their suffering but also the humour that kept them going. It's a phenomenal achievement.
When I finished the book, I had to talk to my family about it because you will need to share. I discovered that my Grandad's uncle was part of the merchant navy during the Second World War and took this same Arctic route. He had survived German attacks and the rest of the war and lived the rest of his life relying on his sense of humour but also clinging to routines because it was the only way he could cope. I'm so glad I've read 'Arctic Star' because it has brought this to my attention and also because when we think of the Second World War we don't always consider the huge bravery shown by men in the navy. This is an exemplary book to readdress this. And it has made me really want to visit HMS Belfast in London too to find out more.
Thank you Tom Palmer for again bringing awareness to our past with touching simplicity, sensitivity and respect. If you haven't, go and read his books and see for yourself.
Thank you also to the magnificent Barrington Stoke for the copy to review.