2020 Reviews · historical fiction · World War II

Book Review: The Secret Messenger by Mandy Robotham

Title: The Secret Messenger

Author: Mandy Robotham

Published: January 20th 2020

Publisher: Avon GB -HarperCollins Books Australia

Pages: 400

Genres:  Fiction, Historical

RRP: $19.99

Rating: 4 stars

The highly awaited new novel from the internationally bestselling author of The German Midwife (also published as A Woman of War).

Venice, 1943

The world is at war, and Stella Jilani is leading a double life. By day she works in the lion’s den as a typist for the Reich; by night, she risks her life as a messenger for the Italian resistance. Against all odds, Stella must impart Nazi secrets, smuggle essential supplies and produce an underground newspaper on her beloved typewriter.

But when German commander General Breugal becomes suspicious, it seems he will stop at nothing to find the mole, and Stella knows her future could be in jeopardy.

London, 2017

Years later, Luisa Belmont finds a mysterious old typewriter in her attic. Determined to find out who it belonged to, Luisa delves into the past and uncovers a story of fierce love, unimaginable sacrifice and, ultimately, the worst kind of betrayal…

Set between German-occupied 1940s Venice and modern-day London, this is a fascinating tale of the bravery of everyday women in the darkest corners of WWII, for readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

Review:

A dangerous betrayal, war, love, resistance, survival and secrets swirl around The Secret Messenger by bestselling author Mandy Robotham. As a World War II fiction specialist, Mandy Robotham brings to light a tumultuous time in history in a unique corner of the world, Venice in 1943-44. Robotham’s story unveils a series of perilous events involving a brave woman playing a deadly game with the Reich. The Secret Messenger is a staple read for all fans of historical fiction.

Situated in Venice in the year 1943, The Secret Messenger introduces an enterprising woman named Stella Jilani, who bravely works as a typist by day and a resistance worker by night. Smuggling secret messages, deciphering codes and relaying information for those she works for, Stella puts her life at risk for the resistance cause. Stella’s essential work as a typist for an underground newspaper operating in Venice also puts her in a very difficult position. When Stella’s activities catch the attention of a German commander, Stella knows her days are numbered. With the commander on a relentless quest to discover who is betraying his party’s secrets, Stella must do all she can to avoid detection. The Secret Messenger travels forward in time to 2017 in London, where a woman named Luisa Belmont uncovers an old typewriter in her attic. Luisa begins to piece together the lost story of the origins of this typewriter and how it managed to be the central playing card in a deadly game of war and betrayal.

I recently read The Berlin Girl and The German Midwife, both penned by the author of The Secret Messenger. I now consider myself a devoted fan of Mandy Robotham’s work and I will definitely be seeking out Robotham’s next release as soon as it becomes available. I was really excited to read The Secret Messenger, it seemed to have my name written all over it. I have a unyielding fascination for World War II fiction and the chance to visit a very different location during this era was just what I was looking for.

Firstly, the aspect of The Secret Messenger that seemed to work really well for me was the setting base. Although Mandy Robotham’s book is a dual timeline narration, the bulk of the action is set in wartime Italy. Zoning the action in Venice was a fabulous choice by the author. I think Robotham did a truly magnificent job of illuminating this setting and time period. I have visited Venice, but this city was brought to life again in my mind thanks to Robotham’s strong prose. Adding an extra historical and war spin to this remarkable city, along with how it coped under the Nazi regime was enlightening. Robotham draws our attention to the Nazi influence on the floating city and its citizens. Many appalling acts committed were against the innocent people of Venice at this time, which is fully exposed via Robotham’s engrossing narrative. The Secret Messenger will shock, surprise and upset you in places.

Leading the charge in this novel is central female protagonist Stella Jilani. Stella is a superb female leader, who helps to move the cogs in this book. Brave, fearless, astute and selfless, I really admired Stella. I rooted for Stella every step of the way as she worked tirelessly for the resistance, which put her directly into the arms of the enemy many times over. Stella’s life story reminds us of the true courage and heroic actions of many ordinary people during the war. Supporting Stella are a bevy of secondary cast members, both good and bad, which gives Robotham the space to play around with plenty of plot twists and narrative interludes. In the 2017 storyline, we are presented with a protagonist who is suffering from a significant loss, but this pivotal character still manages to drive the story in forward motion. I did find Luisa Belmont’s story less compelling, but Luisa is a strong catalyst who helps to ensure that Stella’s story rises to the surface after remaining hidden for many years.

Turn to The Secret Messenger if you are looking for an uncommon take on the resistance effort in Venice during the heat of the Second World War.

The Secret Messenger by Mandy Robotham was published on 20th January 2020 by Avon – GB. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Secret Messenger, Mandy Robotham visit here.

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