Title: The Metal Heart
Author: Caroline Lea
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication Date: 29th April 2021
Five hundred Italian prisoners-of-war arrive to fortify these remote and windswept islands.
Resentful islanders are fearful of the enemy in their midst, but not orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance. Already outcasts, they volunteer to nurse all prisoners who are injured or fall sick.
Soon Dorothy befriends Cesare, an artist swept up by the machine of war and almost broken by the horrors he has witnessed. She is entranced by his plan to build an Italian chapel from war scrap and sea debris, and something beautiful begins to blossom.
But Con, scarred from a betrayal in her past, is afraid for her sister; she knows that people are not always what they seem.
Soon, trust frays between the islanders and outsiders, and between the sisters – their hearts torn by rival claims of duty and desire.
A storm is coming . . .
I absolutely adored Caroline Lea’s previous book The Glass Woman so I was thrilled at the chance to read The Metal Heart! I am pleased to report it is just as phenomenal as I’d hoped and expected. The book has a basis in truth, covering events involving Italian prisoners-of-war being sent to the Orkney Islands in World War Two to fortify the area. The story follows orphaned twin sisters Dorothy and Constance and Dorothy’s instant connection and growing feelings for Italian POW, Cesare. Tensions rise on the island and between the sisters and build to an intense and deeply emotional conclusion.
I’m really not sure I can articulate just how brilliant The Metal Heart is but I’ll give it a go! Caroline Lea is, quite simply, a stunningly good writer. The prose is evocative, elegant and achingly beautiful. There is an incredible sense of setting which makes every page gorgeously atmospheric. I’m Scottish but I’ve never actually visited Orkney and after reading this book it is going on my travel wish list immediately. Lea builds such a strong feeling into her descriptions of Orkney and weaves in so much mystical Scottish folklore which ties into the romance, tragedy, fear and hope present in the plot. Orkney has a particularly rich sense of folklore and mythology which makes it the perfect setting for this moving tale of love and prejudice in all its forms.
The characters in The Metal heart, especially the twins and Cesare feel so real and so human that it is impossible not be swept up in their story. The romance is tender and authentic whilst the relationship between the sisters is so full of depth, loyalty and shared trauma. These characters will all be staying in my mind for quite some time. I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. Lea has masterfully taken the true story of the building of the Orkney Italian Chapel and the presence of the Italian POWs and morphed it into a compelling and heart wrenching story of all consuming love. Please pick up this book – I promise you will not be disappointed.
Thank you so much to Chrissie Antoniou and Michael Joseph for the blog tour invitation and for kindly providing a copy of the book. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.