Book Club Review: ‘The Amber Keeper’ by Freda Lightfoot

I’m part of a book club in London that meets once a month – mostly made up of former colleagues of mine that love reading. We usually meet around Farringdon on a weekday evening – if you’re in the area and fancy joining us, just email me at the address under “About Me”!

This month’s book was The Amber Keeper, which happened to be the third book in a row I had read that was set (partly) in Russia. I lived in Russia for a few years as a kid and the country still holds a place in my heart!

The Amber Keeper got mixed reviews from the group – everyone enjoyed the read, but found flaws with the storytelling. The book is set partly in 1960s England, in the Lake District, and partly in Russia in the early 20th century. The Russian-set part of the story was widely held to be the more interesting, and luckily this takes up most of the book.

The main characters are engaging – young, determined Abbie in the 1960s and her equally tenacious grandmother, Millie, who tells the story of when she was a governess in the Russian Empire. It’s the side characters of this novel that are harder to find common ground with. Abbie’s brother is too harsh, Millie’s mistress the Countess too cruel, the Count too amiable. Many of these supporting players seem like caricatures to prop up the story.

The dialogue was also an issue for everyone – Lightfoot has fallen into the trap of having her characters speak as if they are explaining to the audience rather than conversing with each other.

However, the Russian segments of the story are a gripping read, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the very end. The ending itself is a little too neat to be believable, but that’s the case all the way through with this book – everything is very convenient for the story, if not particularly realistic.

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