Review: Arctic Star by Tom Palmer

Cover image by Tom Clohosy Cole for Barrington Stoke

Almost a year ago I was extremely lucky to talk to Tom Palmer about the research behind his stunning historical novel After the War. That deeply moving book went on to be nominated for numerous awards and it introduced readers of all ages to an extraordinary and important story about loss and hope.

In his latest book, Arctic Star, Tom has revisited wartime history and he has vividly created a fascinating, exhilarating and heart-breaking account of the Royal Navy’s Arctic Convoys during the Second World War.

These vitally important convoys of merchant ships and warships carried supplies across the Arctic Ocean to Russia between 1941 and 1945. Those who served onboard were faced not only with treacherous water and freezing cold conditions but also the threat of Nazi warships and submarines.

From the very beginning of Arctic Star readers are blasted with the demanding and wild nature of working on those ice-covered ships and, it is in these overwhelming conditions that we are introduced to the book’s main characters, Frank, Joseph and Stephen. These young sailors are serving onboard the HMS Forgetmenot in the middle of the Norwegian Sea in 1943 but their friendship was formed during their childhoods in Plymouth where they grew up alongside the sea and in the shadow of its power. Palmer heartbreakingly captures the youth of his main characters and all their hopes, dreams and even immaturities as they are forced to grow up during wartime. The childhood they shared has barely faded from the homes where their parents wait for news of them as they sail across the icy sea towards Russia. These young men are only a few years older than the book’s target readers and their humour and innocence in the face of the brutality of war makes this story even more powerful.

As with his previous historical fiction books, Palmer has clearly immersed himself deeply in the history behind his tale. Arctic Star is filled with historical details that have been meticulously researched and are woven seamlessly into the story. From the food that they ate to the tools that they used to physically fight against the ice to the extra measures of rum that were given to the men for courage before a battle, every detail of life on the convoy is captured on the page.

The book builds to a terrifying sea battle and it places the reader right in the centre of the clash between naval warships and submarines. It is among the chaos and confusion of that conflict, when our lead characters are experiencing every emotion from fear to exhilaration, that Palmer is able to pause and focus on the tragedy of these convoys and the lives that were lost when they journeyed across the freezing ocean.

In the book's notes the author credits the resources that were available from the Imperial War Museum and he has used these original sources to create a brilliant fictional account that is a perfect way to engage young readers with the events of the Second World War. He was able to visit HMS Belfast and see first-hand what it was like to be on the warship that features in the book's final sea battle. Whether within school or as part of a home-education curriculum this book is a fantastic history resource that is supported by additional materials that you can find on Tom Palmer's website here.

As with all books published by Barrington Stoke, Arctic Star is written and designed in a way that is clear and inviting for reluctant readers. It is a wonderful example of how history can be shared by everyone and I'm delighted to have had the opportunity to review it here..

To find out more about Tom and his books you can visit his website at tompalmer.co.uk. You can also follow him on Twitter: @tompalmerauthor

If you would like to find out more about the Arctic Convoys you can visit the Imperial War Museum website here and find out about visiting HMS Belfast (when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted) here.

Thank you to Barrington Stoke for sending my review copy of Arctic Star.

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