Reviewed by Emma Crowley
1940, London: An unforgettable novel about the strength of the human spirit in the face of war and the remarkable women who put themselves in danger on the front lines during the Battle of Britain.
As a volunteer for the ambulance service, Ruby has the dangerous task of driving along pitch-dark roads during the blackout. With each survivor she pulls from the rubble, she is helping to fight back against the enemy bombers, who leave nothing but destruction in their wake.
Assigned to her crew is Joseph, who is unable to fight but will stop at nothing to save innocent lives. Because he is not in uniform, people treat him with suspicion and Ruby becomes determined to protect this brave, compassionate man who has rescued so many, and captured her heart. Even if it means making an unthinkable choice between saving her own life and risking everything for his…
2019: Recently divorced Edi feels lost and alone when she moves to London to start a new life. Until she makes a discovery, hidden beneath a loose floorboard in her attic, that reveals a secret about the people who lived there in the 1940s. As she gradually uncovers a wartime love story full of danger and betrayal, Edi becomes inspired by the heroism of one incredible woman and the legacy that can be left behind by a single act of courage…
Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Beyond This Broken Sky to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
I’d never read anything by Siobhan Curham prior to reading Beyond This Broken Sky but I will be rectifying that as I really enjoyed this book. It was very cleverly written in that it soon became apparent to me in that this was a book within a book and it’s when you come to that realisation you realise this is an astute mystery at its centre that you want to solve just as much as one of the characters, Edi in the present. This book highlights the strength of the human spirit in the face of war but also shows the remarkable women who put themselves in danger on the front line. In this case volunteering as ambulance drivers and first aiders during the Blitz.
I’ve read countless books set during World War Two and this one was just that little bit different which brought a spark to a genre in which at times you can think what else can possibly be written about the war? At its core, there is a love story which deepens and grows as the story progresses. Although said characters stances and viewpoints are the very thing that could separate them. Beyond This Broken Sky is a dual timeline book set in the present day and in 1940. Straight away I will say the more modern day aspect of the story is very short. The chapters told from Edi’s viewpoint as she recuperates in her apartment after damaging her foot whilst searching in her attic are over before you settle into them. They really are mere stop gaps and fillers to bridge the gap between the past and present. It’s only as you near the end the significance of Edi’s discovery in the attic, and the seemingly increased presence of her neighbour Pearl around her as she recuperates, have any real forbearing on the overall story.
Edi helps bind the two strands of the story together as she reads a book written by Pearl many years ago which only increases the number of questions she has following her discovery. Truthfully Edi’s own personal background had no real overall relevance to the story and I didn’t find it held my attention all that much but she was the catalyst that helped bring a love story and the truth of what happened so many years ago out into the open once again having being kept secret for so long. The sections of the book set in the past were definitely stronger and certainly had me more interested and engrossed.
The initial opening pages inform us of a soldier hiding in the bushes in the darkness observing. He knows how the story will end and at any moment he can choose to bring a life to a halt. The reader’s interest is instant piqued and you want to know what has brought him to this point? Why does he seem hell bent on finishing things? I guessed fairly early on who the actual soldier was and their reasons for appearing the way they do. As for what specifically happens I could never have dreamed of and the author did a brilliant job of telling this particularly story within the book that Edi is reading.
Ruby Glenville, the main female character, seemed to have many strings to her bow and I felt for the majority of the book that she only gave us glimpses into her past life. The little titbits she drops into conversations every now and then suggest she has travelled widely and done exciting things and that still even though war has halted her gallop there is still an air of excitement and adventure within her. Still there is also a sense of despondency about her as she is still deeply affected by the loss of her father even though she was left with plenty of money and a house. He had been an entertainer and she visits his waxworks in Madame Tussauds, feeling she can still talk to him and remain close to him. I felt Ruby was kind of flighty and that she didn’t stick at one thing for very long but that war would soon put paid to that and she would have to do an awful lot of growing up and come to understand her position of privilege was lucky to be bestowed upon her.
Underneath it all Ruby does have a very kind heart and this is shown in the attention and care she gives to Kitty who rents an apartment from Ruby. Kitty does not have it easy as her husband is a bully and tyrant who inflicts such abuse upon Kitty. Ruby can see what is going on and is desperate for Kitty to break free as there is another source of love which would serve her much better. But Kitty is reluctant in fear of what the repercussions may be. Although Kitty does have a strong presence in the story, this book is really the story of Ruby and Joseph which starts hesitantly and builds into something remarkable and special despite the constant backdrop of war and the carnage the pair see.
Theirs is not an easy friendship and they really rub each other up the wrong way when they first properly meet despite Joseph being Ruby’s tenant for some time. The sly remarks and barbs flow back and forth and their differing viewpoints in relation to the war only add to the tension simmering between them. There are plenty of misunderstandings and Ruby feels like she is always playing catch up and trying to impress him, yet at the same time she is trying to stop herself doing this. Volunteering as ambulance drivers during the Blitz literally throws them together and the sights they see alter both their viewpoints and force both of them to revaluate their perspectives. In doing so will they pull further apart or draw closer together?
Joseph was different from any male character I had read about before in that he didn’t enlist to go and fight for his country. He was a conscientious objector and was judged for this stance and to be honest I judged him too. He was a pacifist and against all violence and the specific reasons for this do become clear further into the book. I thought he really should have gone and did his bit for his country like millions of other men. It would take some explanation in order for me to alter my opinion, but the author does go on to state and flesh out the reasons why Joseph had chosen to remain at home. I could see their validity but there was a part of me even by the end of the book which thought he should have gone away to fight. But then if he had he would perhaps have never met Ruby and the interesting story I read would never have occurred.
Joseph doesn’t want to sit back and do nothing while so many innocent people are in danger so he volunteers for the same organisation as Ruby. This job gives both of them a sense of purpose. The descriptions of the raids as bombs fall on the city of London and the destruction, pain and loss left in their wake were brilliant and really helped bring the story to life. This also helped bring Joseph and Ruby closer together as they were having shared experiences, and this allowed them both to overcome their fears and perhaps share love? I thought Ruby went a bit off track in the last quarter at one particular point before finding her equilibrium once again. She made a very foolish decision and I didn’t fully understand her reasoning behind it. I thought it was just inflicting unnecessary pain on herself when this is something she had tried to avoid since the death of her father. I questioned her judgement in regard to this and hoped she would see sense and reason.
The last few chapters of this book were brilliant, packed full of action and tension and you are left open mouthed in shock and disbelief at what is unfolding. I was desperately wishing something not to be true and thinking how could the author do this? It showed how cleverly plotted the entire novel had been, more so in the sections set back during the war but still overall this made for a very good read. Admittedly, it’s a quick read but I suppose that’s a good thing as it shows how engrossed I became with it. I’m looking forward to discovering more of Siobhan Curham’s work in the future but I do suggest you check out this book in the meantime.