Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Emma's Review: Into the Burning Dawn by Natalie Meg Evans

 Reviewed by Emma Crowley 

Twenty-one-year-old Imogen Fitzpatrick was raised in an English orphanage and never knew her parents. So when World War Two breaks out, she refuses to leave the life she’s worked so hard to build for herself, teaching English to little Marco and Eloisa in the beautiful Italian city of Naples. With their father Giancarlo away fighting for the fascists, there’s no one else to care for these lost children. Imogen’s dark hair and perfect Italian will protect her for now, but if anyone discovers her secret identity as an enemy of Italy, Marco and Eloisa will be left with no one.

As the shadows of bomber planes darken the azure-blue waters of the bay, the one person Imogen can depend on is Fabrizio, the children’s uncle. He’s never seen eye-to-eye with their father, and Imogen is forbidden to speak to him… but whenever they secretly meet in the lemon groves Imogen instantly feels safe. Fabrizio talks passionately of the resistenza, the underground group fighting the regime, and soon Imogen herself is involved – smuggling food along the rocky coast, and even supplying information on Giancarlo to help fight the Nazis and end this awful war.

But when Giancarlo suddenly returns, injured from the fighting, Imogen is shocked to find him much changed. Rather than the fascist sympathiser she knew and resented, she sees in Giancarlo a man who would do anything to protect his children and his beloved Italy. Was she wrong to expose him as a traitor?

Torn between two sides, Imogen’s own life is thrown into terrible danger when a child goes missing and her secret identity is exposed… did she put her trust in the wrong man? And is it too late to save herself, and the children from the horrors of war?

Amazon Links: Kindle or Paperback

Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Into the Burning Dawn to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Natalie Meg Evans is one of my favourite historical fiction authors. I have particularly loved her books set in Paris but now she turns her attention to Italy and how the second world War affected people’s lives there. The cover for this new book Into the Burning Dawn is just amazing, the colours chosen just lend themselves to this air of mystery and intrigue that the cover gives off. I’ll admit straight from the outset that unfortunately I found this book took a very long time to get into and that for the first part of the story nothing much seemed to happen at all. But then that moment finally came and something just clicked with me and there was no stopping me until I reached the end. I’m glad I persisted with it as I have already said that I really do love this author’s writing and wouldn’t like to give up too easily on a book. If like me you find the beginning and some of the middle too long winded, stick with it and you will be rewarded with a very dramatic and edge of your seat second half.

June 1940 and Imogen Fitzgerald is living and working in Italy for Count Giancarlo di Trosini and his family as a tutor and nanny of sorts to his daughter Eloise and son Marco. Giancarlo runs a local factory and earns good money but times are changing with the onset of war and the rise to power of the Fascist movement. I couldn’t make head nor tail of Giancarlo for the majority of the novel, OK he was missing from alot of the story, as he does join the army and leaves to fight in Africa, but when he was present I thought he blew very hot and cold and I think Imogen felt the same way about her employer. She feels uncomfortable in his presence and doesn’t know how to read him. The family history of Giancarlo having tragically lost his wife to a drowning still has such deep lasting effects on the household and Imogen is really not sure of her place. There are a lot of layers to all the characters that are pulled back very slowly as the chapters pass and it’s when I reached the end that I realised that what I had taken to be as just pages that were there as fillers in were in fact vital cogs to the overall wheel and truly the author was writing a very good story with lots of surprises.

Imogen arrived in Italy thinking that she was going to work in Ireland but a sister from the orphanage she grew up in put paid to that and now she has found herself in a setting she never dreamt possible. She was like a fish out of water and for most of the book I thought she was so naïve to what was going on around her that rather she was led by her heart rather than her head and common sense. She was so tied to morality and her upbringing that I think even though things were going on right under her nose she perhaps chose to ignore them until a little bit too late. There were numerous times that I wanted to give her a right shake and say start acting like an adult instead of a child and make some decisions for yourself that you know are right and stick to them. What really blindsided Imogen was this infatuation she had with Giancarlo’s half brother Fabrizio. It was like she had this slavish blind devotion to him and his charm, humour and manipulation were working his magic on her.

Without doubt Fabrizio is the stand out character of this book. He constantly rubbed Giancarlo up the wrong way and there was no love lost between them and the tension and hostility just kept increasing. As Imogen is English when war breaks out her position is precarious as she is seen as a spy which couldn’t have been further from the truth. But it’s Giancarlo who gets her sorted with papers to make it safe for her to stay seeing  as her ship literally sailed away. Why wasn’t Fabrizio doing any of this? Surely he wasn’t blind to the fact that Imogen was head over heels in love with him and she would have done anything he asked of her and he could use her to do things for him. In the later half my opinions of Fabrizio as a character swayed back and forth. On one hand I thought oh maybe he is reciprocating what Imogen feels for him and then with the turn of a page he seemed to have done a complete 360 and it was like I was reading about a different man altogether and not one I particularly admired nor cared for. 

The Stella Nouva, a group set up by anti- fascists which Fabrizio and the Marchessa, who was the sister of Giancarlo’s wife, play a crucial role throughout the story as they do their best to aid those who need help as the war further strengthens its grip. Imogen finds herself totally out of her comfort zone as she becomes a member but I wondered was she doing this just to please Fabrizio and try and keep him on side so he would fall for her? I found the workings of the group and what they were trying to achieve as a whole fascinating and this set up provided lots of surprises within the story which when they came in the later half they did so thick and fast. This made up for the slow start and I thought coming towards the end events became even more visual than they already had been. 

From the beginning the descriptions of the cities and the countryside that Imogen and the family live in were brilliant. When bombing raids occur I could see it all so clearly in my head. Such wanton unnecessary destruction causing such damage, deprivation and trauma. The later scenes were tense and as I have said visual and events were leaping off the page as connections began to be made and some startling revelations were thrown into the mix for good measure. It was edge of your seat stuff and right until the very last page the reader is left in suspense as to what will happen. Which is really how every good book should be.

Imogen certainly undergoes a transformation in this book. Initially I found her to be weak and to be honest a bit too straight laced and dull but when push came to shove she grew up and accepted her responsibilities especially in Giancarlo’s absence and she showed her true worth. As the blurb mentions, when that pivotal point is reached is it too late to save both herself and the children from the horrors of war? To discover the answer to this I would recommend you read Into the Burning Dawn as it is a very good read which once you reach the half way point really gives something to get stuck into and has you thinking about all the possible scenarios that occur and their possible outcomes. 

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