Book review: Seven Days in May by Kim Izzo

13 Jun

kim izzoAs the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk.

Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead. In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war. As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate.

I love reading novels that shed light on events and periods of history that I know little about. The sinking of the Lusitania is one such event – I knew very little about the circumstances and theories surrounding the tragedy when I started this novel and I learned a lot from reading it. Kim has certainly done her research and evocatively brings to life both the ship itself and the activities of the British Admiralty in Room 40, some of which are still shrouded in mystery today.

Kim has created three excellent and very different female characters to lead Seven Days In May; Sydney and Brooke are rich American heiresses but as different as two sisters could possibly be. Sydney’s belief and active participation in the suffrage movement contrast sharply with her sister’s desire to be the leading light of New York society and Izzo sets up an excellent friction between the two which plays out throughout the story.

We also meet Isabel Nelson as she takes up a new post, working for the Admiralty in London. Izzo uses Isabel to give us a tantalising glance at the inner workings of the war effort. I’d never heard of Room 40 but have always been fascinated by the code breakers of World War Two and was surprised to learn of this predecessor. Isabel is also hiding her own secret past and this added another layer to the intrigue of the story.

Key issues of the time, particularly women’s rights, are brought to life through Isobel, Sydney and Brooke and this makes Seven Days in May a very readable and even relatable novel. I’ve enjoyed both of Kim’s previous novels but the combination of mystery, social history and the tension of an impending disaster make this my new favourite of her books.

Starting in January 1915, the story moves chronologically, charting the days to that fateful day in May and then following the aftermath of the sinking. Chapters are narrated in turn from  the viewpoints of Sydney, Isabel and Edward – the man Brooke is engaged to and the reason that the sisters are crossing to England. Edward is also an interesting character  who didn’t appeal to me much at first but I warmed to him as the novel progressed.

Building on rich historical detail, Izzo also packs plenty of drama and romance into this story which took me through the full range of emotions. The scenes from the sinking were just heartbreaking and I read with my heart in my mouth waiting to see which of the passengers survived. Seven Days in May is a gripping historical fiction read from Kim Izzo, perfect for fans of Gill Paul and Hazel Gaynor.

4/5

Seven Days in May is released on 15th June in paperback and ebook formats from Harper Collins.

Find out more about Kim and her writing at: http://kimizzo.com/wdp/

I’d like to thank Emma Dowson for providing a review copy of this book.

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