An impactful story about the Arctic convoys during the Second World War that’s likely to seized on by teachers responsible for introducing their students to this period.
Frank, Joseph and Stephen have been friends their whole life – living on the same street as children, attending primary school together and watching the ships together on Plymouth Sound as young men. The three remain together as Royal Navy recruits when, in winter 1943, they’re all assigned to the same ship. HMS Forgetmenot is part of an Arctic convoy sailing to Russia to deliver supplies to the Soviets. It’s a terrifying and treacherous journey that will test their skills and friendship to breaking point. This is war and the constant threat of German attack means there are no guarantees that all three will make it safely home.
I am a huge fan of Tom Palmer’s wartime stories, having been lucky enough to review three of the four he’s written to date. All were simultaneously addictive and heart-wrenching so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read the latest addition to the collection.
Arctic Star is published by Barrington Stoke who specialise in books that are accessible to reluctant readers and suitable for many who have dyslexia. It’s, therefore, not surprising that – like the others in the collection – this is an easy read and I was able to devour all 182 pages in a single evening. The descriptions may be simple but they are incredibly powerful. I could almost feel the biting wind and freezing sea spray.
I found it slightly harder to identify with our protagonists than some of the other books in the collection. The friendship – and tensions – between the three are, however, wonderfully developed. I particularly enjoyed the scenes that take place during their brief shore visit in the Soviet Union. Tears also filled my eyes when Frank relates a slightly edited version of this visit later in the book.
The plot is inevitably hampered by the need to remain historically accurate. Given this, I was impressed by the drama of the climax (as well as intrigued to find out more about the true life events). I suspect this fictionalised account will be seized on by any teachers responsible for introducing their students to this period. (There is some useful information in the author’s notes at the end, as well as a short explanation, and selection of photographs, of the HMS Belfast which features in the climax).
Publication date: May 2021
Publisher: Conkers (Barrington Stoke)
Author’s website: Tom Palmer