Title: Amber Road
Author: Boyd Anderson
Published: January, 2013
Imprint: Bantam Australia
The place and the era: Singapore in February 1942. The battle of Singapore lasted just seven days. Winston Churchill called it the worst disaster in British history, because as the largest British military base in South-East Asia, Singapore was felt to be impregnable.
I was excited about Amber Road, because other novels I've read which featured the fall of Singapore concentrated on the English characters. The heroine of Amber Road, Victoria Khoo, is Chinese. This gave the book an entirely different perspective.
Victoria's only 17, and lives a privileged life. She's Scarlett O'Hara, vain and self-absorbed, and her entire world is about to be gone with the wind. She wants and expects to marry golden boy, Sebastian Boustead, who's just "come down" from Cambridge. She gets a nasty shock, however. Sebastian's welcome home party is also an engagement party; his fiancee, Elizabeth Nightingale, arrives on the ship with him.
After growing up with Sebastian, who's her brother's best friend, Victoria looks on him as hers, and a little thing like a fiancee has no effect on her plans. After the fall of Singapore, she figures that Elizabeth's too weak to last long. Elizabeth will conveniently die, and Sebastian will be hers.
Although I enjoyed the book, I never felt that we got to know the characters: what made them tick. Victoria's focus on herself is absolute, and she's an innocent. She's a young girl of her era, so she misinterprets the actions of those around her: her family, Sebastian, Elizabeth, the various Japanese officers, as well as Joe Spencer, an Australian intelligence officer (probably) who's fallen for her.
I say "probably" about Joe Spencer, because much of the story is told from Victoria's point of view, and Victoria doesn't know much. We get some commentary from her father and brother, but mostly we're in Victoria's head. She doesn't understand the motivations and feelings of the people around her, and she rarely understands what's happening in Singapore.
The story is good, but reading the novel is frustrating. It could have been fantastic, if the author had given us more from people like Joe, Mr Khoo, Rose the brothel keeper, and Elizabeth. Instead, mostly we're stuck with Victoria, who gets into dangerous situations without realizing her danger.
In short, great characters, great era, but many missed chances. I'd love to see a sequel to the book, focusing on one of the minor characters.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5 stars)
(A review copy was provided.)