Written by Freda Lightfoot
Published by Amazon Publishing (Lake Union Imprint)
Review by Charlie Britten
Millie’s life changed forever in 1911, when she became governess to Countess Olga Belinsky’s children. One of the most evil characters ever to appear between book covers, a woman who refused to breastfeed her howling, newborn baby, Countess Belinsky defines this novel. Sexually voracious, manipulative, spiteful, greedy and self-serving, I believe that Freda Lightfoot created her as an allegory for everything that was wrong in Imperial Russia. Her husband, Count Vasily, on the other hand, was a sweet, public-spirited man, in the mould of Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
This is a novel with two settings and two casts of characters, one featuring Millie in St Petersburg during the Russian Revolution, and the other Millie’s granddaughter, Abigail, in the English Lake District in 1963. The Russian thread was as harsh and unrelenting as the steppe, with the workers’ anger bubbling beneath the veneer of tinkling sleigh-bells and fur-lined hats. By contrast, Abigail’s was about her making peace with her family, after having eloped with a French chef – family saga stuff, much gentler. However, despite a tinny transistor playing Please, Please Me in chapter one, this reader didn’t pick up a 1960s feel.
Freda Lightfoot has written over forty family sagas and historical novels, featuring northern England during the first half of the twentieth century. This was the first one set outside her own country, but it was thoroughly researched, including details like St Petersburg tram drivers refusing to permit the poorer people to board their vehicles because they assumed they were drunk all the time. Although the Tsar and Tsarina became real when the Belinskys referred to them as Nicky and Alix, Freda’s accounts of the course of the Revolution were too long and factual, often leaving her characters as onlookers.
The Amber Keeper title is enigmatic. Is it to remind the reader of the Amber Room in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, or of Abigail designing and selling jewellery? But, as the novel progresses, the amber connection is revealed, closing the gap between Millie’s story and Abigail’s. Countess Belinsky’s nastiness pervades to the very end.
Charlie Britten has contributed to Every Day Fiction, Mslexia, Linnet’s Wings, CafeLit, and Radgepacket. She has also written a couple of book reviews for Copperfield Review. She writes because she loves doing it.
All Charlie’s work is based in reality, with a strong human interest element. Although much of her work is humorous, she has also written serious fiction, about the 7/7 Bombings in London and attitudes to education before the Second World War. Charlie lives in southern England with her husband and cat. In real life, she is an IT lecturer at a college of further education. Charlie’s blog, ‘Write On’, is at http://charliebritten.wordpress.com/.