'Nisha's War' is Dan Smith's best book yet. Sublimely told with a finely tuned balance of the ghostly with the very real consequences of war, this is a startling and engrossing read. While in other books Dan Smith goes for all-out action and horror, here he shows nuance and sensitivity that charms as much as it spooks.
1942. Nisha flees a war-torn Malaya with her mother, Amma, to escape to the relative safety of their ancestral home in the North of England. The old house is perched on a cliff on an island and there's an old weeping tree, strictly out of bounds. Nisha's formidable grandmother sets the rules as Amma falls dangerously ill. Left to her devices, Nisha unravels mysteries about her family, while, by the weeping tree, a ghost-child beckons with a promise to help heal her mother...
'Nisha's War' is hugely evocative, moving and drenched in atmosphere. While Dan Smith builds tension and mystery with Nisha's encounter with a ghost, it's his evocation of the relationship between Nisha and those immediately around her that mark this out. There is a tenderness between Nisha and her grandmother that deepens and softens as they learn to emphasise with each other's past traumas. There's the sensitive portrayal of the prejudice Nisha faces as an Anglo-Indian refugee. And there's Nisha's 'truth'; her coming to terms with the ramifications of fleeing Malaya, emotionally and physically. Ultimately, 'Nisha's War' is much, much more than a ghost story. It's a beautiful exploration of grief, trauma and the hope of forgiveness, woven masterfully through a sense of adventure and wartime peril.
If you love anything by Jasbinder Bilan, A.M. Howell or Phil Earle, you will certainly enjoy this in equal measure. Credit also needs to go to the remarkable illustrated cover by Matthew Land with gorgeous interior flaps. This book feels special to have in your hands.