“Whether or not they are dead and gone, history defines us. It makes us what we are.”
*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Avon in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***
I was already swamped with pending ARCs when I received an invitation to read The Secret Messenger, but as I have a (probably already well known) weak spot for WWII historical fiction I just couldn’t resist adding this title to my TBR anyway. Especially since my reading experience with her debut A Woman Of War last year turned out to be a positive one, and I do love a lesser known WWII setting… Because let’s face it: Italy isn’t exactly the star of the show in most WWII historical fiction stories, and I don’t think I’ve read a WWII story before set in Venice. Which was probably one of the key reasons I was especially excited to pick up my copy of The Secret Messenger. Now I’ve had the chance to read The Secret Messenger, I’m not sure what to do with my thoughts. I was fully expecting to love this story, and there were definitely certain elements that managed to provoke that love, but there were also other elements that didn’t work all that well for me. In short: surprisingly enough, I ended up having mixed feelings about The Secret Messenger. I’ll try to explain why below…
First of all I have to say that the setting in Venice is without doubt the true star of this book. The descriptions are detailed, thorough and really made the magic of the city come alive for me… Both in the present and past. Sadly I haven’t been able to visit the city myself just yet, but Mandy Robotham made it feel as if you were right there along with the main characters. Venice is a truly magical city and I loved learning more about its history through the characters of this story. The Secret Messenger uses a dual timeline with two different POVs: Stella in 1943-1944 Venice and Luisa in 2017 UK and later Venice as well. Dual timelines are always tricky to get right, and sadly I don’t think this technique worked all that well in this case. I felt the balance of the two different timelines was off; there was a whole lot more of Stella and Luisa’s chapters fell mostly flat for me until those final chapters set in Venice. To be honest, I think The Secret Messenger would have been a stronger story if it would have been just Stella’s POV, as she is clearly the star of this story and already takes up so much space in the plot to begin with. Luisa’s chapters only distracted from the ones set in the past, and to be honest I never really liked her character all that much either.
I also have to say that the pace was considerably slow during most of the story, only picking up towards the ending as things are getting more intense especially in Stella’s chapters. This slow pace made it harder to stay invested in the story and it took me a lot longer than usual to finally reach that final page… And it mostly thanks to Stella, the Venice setting and its fantastic descriptions and history that I decided to keep on reading. The whole story of the war in Venice and how the resistance tried to do their thing was fascinating, and I truly wish the sole focus would have been on Stella and her story. Luisa didn’t really add much to the plot for me other than slowing down the pace considerably and I don’t think her character was fleshed out enough to be a true asset to the story.
In short, there were things I loved in The Secret Messenger, including the WWII setting in Venice, its history and the story of the resistance and Stella’s story as a whole. There were also things that didn’t work for me, incluiding the slow pace during most of the story, the dual timeline and Luisa’s POV in general. As a result, I ended up having mixed thoughts about The Secret Messenger despite the fact that this story should have been a perfect fit, but fans of the genre should definitely give it a go as most people seem to react a lot better to the elements that didn’t work for me personally. I guess it was unpopular opinion time once again?