Monday, 8 April 2013

book review: a world between us by lydia syson

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson
Genre: Historical, drama
Rating: 6/10
Spain, 1936. Felix, a spirited young nurse, has travelled to Spain to help the cause of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. But she is also following Nat, a passionate young man who has joined the International Brigades fighting Franco. And George - familiar George from home - is not far behind, in pursuit of Felix ...

As Spain fights for its freedom against tyranny, Felix battles a conflict of the heart. With the civil war raging around her, Felix must make choices that will change her life forever.

According to the key on the back, A World Between Us is 50% Epic Romance, 25% History, 25% Drama. That, plus the fact that this book has been favourably compared to Code Name Verity and the Montmaray series, meant that I was really really excited to read this. In the end though I loved the concept more than the end product. It's by no means bad but for a book that had all the elements to be something that I loved (C20 war! Communists! Nurses! Romance!) it ended up falling a bit flat.

I quite liked the first half - the characters were engaging enough (make any of your characters an idealist Communist and I'm in!), using the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop was really original and interesting and the plot really zipped along. I really enjoyed the scenes describing the characters' first impressions of Spain - Felix's confusion regarding the relationship between church and state and Nat's descriptions of the Spanish countryside in particular. It was an excellent example of really efficient storytelling - there were no extraneous details and the story often jumped forwards by weeks or months and that tone/form worked not only in terms of pacing but in creating an atmosphere of the confusion and monotony of war. The problem in the second half however was that that kind of sparse storytelling doesn't really work if your climax/pay-off is intended to be emotional. It wasn't that the conclusion was unearned or inappropriate, it just didn't have the emotional weight I think it wanted. With romance as the key plot the payoff only works if the sense of yearning/conflict/indecision has been building throughout; as it was, nothing but the war seemed problematic or unforeseen.

It's quite possible that my expectations were too high. The book is relatively short (about 280 pages) and is being marketed as YA (though really there's nothing in it beyond the age of the characters that makes it uniquely suited to teen audiences) so that might be used as justification for its brevity/lack of more graphic war/love scenes but it had so much potential! If you're desperate for C20 war fiction in the same vein as CNV or the Montmaray series I'd give A World Between Us a shot but I definitely found the former more satisfying.

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