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January 13, 2020

The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black ~ a Review

by Donna Huber



As you know I love WWII fiction and especially enjoy ones that delve into little known history about that time. So I was excited to read The Secret Guests. It sounded like it would be a great read - set in Ireland where the royal princesses were sent to escape the Blitz in London.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.


January 2020; Henry Holt and Co.; 978-1250133014
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); historical fiction
Ireland was neutral during WWII (I only know because of another book I read) and I had never thought about what the royal family did during the war. Princess Elizabeth, yes the current Queen of England, was a young teenager and her sister Margaret was a tween. I guess I assumed they had been sent to the countryside like most other London children. Benjamin Black believes that they spent a short period of time in Ireland.

Ireland and England has a tumultuous history. How would the IRA take giving refuge to the heir to the throne of England? A female member of the Security Service and an Irish detective are assigned to look after the girls at a rundown manor of a British aristocrat.

The scene sounds set for interesting WWII history tidbits, maybe a little romance, and some cloak and dagger danger. Unfortunately, none of that comes to fruition. I felt as bored as the royal children and their assigned guards.

We did get a little insight into Margaret's personality. I know next to nothing about the Queen's sister. Apparently, she had a flair for the macabre and was quite the romantic for a 10-year-old. We get little insight into Elizabeth who was well trained to hide for emotions behind royal professionalism.

Celia, the security service member, and Strafford, the Irish detective, largely came across as slightly incompetent. Celia mainly served as governess to the girls while Strafford read books about the Thirty Year War and Neo in the Duke's library. For some time the most illicit activity that appeared was him checking out a banned book from the local library.

The characters are all cold to each other which allowed for little interaction between them. We head jump a little between characters in order to learn about them and what they were doing during this dismally boring time. The characters felt largely devoid of emotion. The lack of connection to any of the characters, plus the lack of action, had me wondering if I would call it quits at the two-thirds mark. I didn't see any point to the story. Finally, a little drama was inserted with the shooting of a local man and the discovery that the identity of the girls was possibly known by the IRA.

The IRA thugs were almost comical in their gangster behavior. However, it was all wrapped up quickly with little tension.

If the author wanted the reader to feel the same boredom as the characters, then he succeeded.

I like when historical fiction writers share bits of their research with the reader, particularly on points where they diverged from the historical record. The summary for The Secret Guests ends by stating that Black "has good information that the princesses were indeed in Ireland". I wish he had shared more about his research in an author note so that I would know what is truth and what was purely fiction. It would have provided a bit more interest to this rather sedate story.

Buy The Secret Guests at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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