The sky is clear, star-stamped and silvered by the waxing gibbous moon. No planes have flown over the islands tonight; no bombs have fallen for over a year.
Five hundred Italian prisoners of war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands.
Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick.
Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom.
But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past,is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem.
Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire.
A storm is coming. . .
The story is based on the true story of the building of the Orkney Wedding Chapel during World War 2.
It’s late 1941, in the Orkney’s. Twins Constance and Dorothy have moved from Kirkwall to a small island known as Selkie Holm after the loss of their parents, and after something had happened to Constance. They live in an old shepherd’s bothy, which is sorely in need of repairs, with the door hanging off and a hole in the roof, they could freeze over the winter months. They go to Kirkwall to try and get supplies but nothing in Kirkwall is for sale. The residents repeatedly tell Con and Dot they should move back to Kirkwall. That they would be safer there than on the island Selkie Holm, the people of Kirkwall believe Selkie Holm is haunted, with a curse on the island, that says if a couple fall in love, one has to die.
One night when a German U boat fires missiles on Kirkwall, hitting boats moored off the shore, seeing people injured in the water Con and Dot row out in their boat to try and help rescue men, Dot sees a man drowning, without hesitation she dives in the water and rescues Cesare.
Cesare is just one of the many Italian prisoners of war moved to the island to work. The prisoners are treated badly by some of the guards, as they are made to work in a quarry to build barriers that will link the islands and change the flow of the tide, but they have little food, and poor living quarters, with the threat of being shot if they try to escape. Along with the beatings given by some of the guards. The residents of Kirkwall are not happy to have so many prisoners living so close either.
A beautifully written story of love, sacrifice, fear and survival. The story is told through three points of view Constance, Dorothy and Cesare. There is such a bond between Dot and Con. Dot has given everything she can to protect her sister, and help her to recover from the trauma she had sustained when living in Kirkwall. But when Dot falls in love with Cesare, Con is worried for her sister, she believes she will get hurt by the Italian and watches closely, this at times does cause some tension between the sisters, mainly because Con has never really told Dot everything that had happened to her. She lives with her trauma blaming herself for it, as well as blaming herself for the loss of their parents. Both girls are strong but in completely different ways.
Seeing the love between Dorothy and Cesare grow, despite the fact he is seen as an enemy, because of the war. Their relationship blossoms like a flower, as they grab what time they can with each other. After first rescuing Cesare from the sea, Dot first sees Cesare again in the prisoners hospital, where she is working as a nurse. From then on they try to see each other whenever they can, stealing moments. It’s not always easy, but when the prisoners are given permission to build the chapel, there is a little more freedom for the couple.
The chapel still stands where it was built all those years ago. I loved how the author has managed to weave fact and fiction and come up with a beautiful story. It’s not just a love story though it’s so much more, as it tells of some of the horrors of war, the evil of men, but also the strength of love that can make it possible to overcome evil and tragedy. As the author describes the islands, the bothy, the chapel you could picture it all in your mind. The characters were all three dimensional from the three main characters to the guards, and some of the other prisoners.
I would highly recommend this book, definitely a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ read.
Thank you to #PenguinMichaelJoseph for an ARC of this book. All views and opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Caroline Lea grew up on the island of Jersey and gained a First from Warwick University. Her fiction and poetry have been shortlisted for the Bridgnorth Prize. Her debut novel, The Glass Woman, a gothic thriller set during the Icelandic witch trials, was shortlisted for the HWA Debut Crown Award.