As we come to the end of an unprecedented (God, I’m beginning to hate this word) year, I never fail to remind myself of the comfort I got from reading. I’ve read a lot this year: close to 60 books of various lengths and genres. On the whole, none of them have let me down. I left each one feeling better about life upon reading it. The Amber Crane, from Italian born but well-travelled author Malve von Hassell, is the last book I’ll read this year for Black Coffee Book Tours. It rounds 2021 off in a majestic, profound, and deeply affecting style.
A work of historical fantasy fiction (and I hope I’m not pigeon-holing the author when I write this), The Amber Crane tells the story of Peter Glienke, a 15-year-old boy apprenticed to Master Nowak, a merchant in amber. It’s the tail-end of the Thirty Years’ War and the Europe of 1645 has been devastated, with many millions left destitute or dead. It’s a war that shows no sign of ending, but in Peter’s home town of Stolpmunde, life goes on. Peter spends his time either living with his father and ailing sister Effie or the house of his master, along with the other apprentices, Anne and Cune. He gets by, grieving for his dead brother and mother. He has few people he could call friends, although he has a passing crush on the mayor’s daughter Marthe. The only person he could class as a confidante is his father’s housekeeper, Clare, who’s more concerned about Effie’s well-being than anything else.
And she has good reason to be. Effie comes home one day from a trip into town and it’s obvious to Clare that the young girl, who suffers from a form of epilepsy, has been raped. Peter suspects who the rapist might be but he’s powerless to do anything about it. While all this is happening, Peter finds himself transported to the year 1945, again at the tail-end of a war that has brought Europe close to its knees. How this happens is a mystery to him, but he comes to realise that an ornate piece of amber he picked up at the beach may have strange qualities. He doesn’t know if he’s dreaming or if the events he’s witnessing and the people he meets, in particular a young German girl called Lioba, are in fact real. The more he visits this strange environment, the more he begins to care for Lioba and her flight for freedom. He learns a lot about himself and in those visits, he changes and becomes more assertive in those times he returns to 1645. It’s the perfect coming-of-age story, perfect for readers of all ages.
Malve von Hassell is a renowned researcher, anthropologist, and scholar. She brings all these attributes, as well as an innate talent for telling a good story, to bear in The Amber Crane. It’s not a gentle read: indeed, there are moments of horrific violence in both timelines. However, the nature of the story is, humanity has faced much adversity over the centuries, and undoubtedly will face a lot more until we’re no longer around, but it’s the actions of ordinary people like Peter and Lioba that will have a deep and meaningful effect on the lives around us. Regardless of whether you live in 1645 or 1945, you have a place in this world and its history. What you do with that responsibility is down to you. All it takes is a piece of amber and a hell of a lot of courage.