Michael Grant is one of this year’s celebrated World Book Day authors. He belongs in the pantheon of YA writers, and Silver Stars is the second in a planned trilogy which imagines an alternative World War Two history, one in which women served alongside men in the armed forces.
This book really packs a hefty punch. I’m never drawn to war fiction but the premise was intriguing, and I discovered that not only was the writing powerful and engaging, but so were the book’s themes.
It’s summer 1943 and the Allied forces are planning to invade Sicily. There are three narrative strands, belonging to Rio, a front line soldier, Rainy, an intelligence officer, and Frangie, a black American medic. Frangie faces not only endemic casual sexism, but also racism. Black soldiers serve in segregated units and Frangie’s war is harder because ‘what people like even less than women soldiers, is black women soldiers’
Strong, dignified Rainy was my favourite character. One tense chapter, where her submarine comes under attack, was so relentlessly paced, it was causing me palpitations. And that’s before the Gestapo scenes!
Michael Grant’s ambition and obviously extensive research is admirable. There is no glorification of war, the brutality of the battlefield inevitably hardens the soldier’s hearts.
However, some of the language is jarring. Apparently the swearing had to be toned down for the U.S library service, but this has led to the word ‘fug’ being inserted as a substitute. A soldier shouting ‘Fug Hitler! Fug Mussolini!’ is bizarre and almost comical. How odd that our teenagers can read graphic depictions of bodies being decimated in battle but certain words are considered beyond the pale.
A £1 spin-off story (Dead of Night) was published for World Book Day 2017. A good toe-dipper for those considering launching into this richly imagined G.I world. Begin with volume one, Front Lines. Highly recommended.
Silver Stars is published by Electric Monkey, 496 pages.