Book Review: The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie

The Road to GrantchesterAbout the Book

It is 1938, and eighteen-year-old Sidney Chambers is dancing the quickstep with Amanda Kendall at her brother Robert’s birthday party at the Caledonia Club. No one can believe, on this golden evening, that there could ever be another war.

Returning to London from the war seven years later, Sidney has gained a Military Cross, and lost his best friend on the battlefields of Italy. The carefree youth that he and his friends were promised has been blown apart, just like the rest of the world – and Sidney, carrying a terrible, secret guilt, must decide what to do with the rest of his life. But Sidney has heard a call: constant, though quiet, and growing ever more persistent. To the incredulity of his family and the derision of his friends – the irrepressible actor Freddie, and the beautiful, spiky Amanda – Sidney must now negotiate his path to God: the course of which, much like true love, never runs smooth.

Format: Hardcover, ebook, (336 pp.)    Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Published: 21st March 2019           Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Road to Grantchester on Goodreads


My Review

Structured in four parts – War, Peace, Faith and Love – The Road to Grantchester allows the author to explore and illuminate the back story of the Sidney Chambers readers will meet in the first book of the series, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death.  Although I’d heard of The Granchester Mysteries TV series,  I’d never actually watched any of the episodes (which having read The Road to Grantchester I’m now rather regretting).  Neither had I read any of the books on which the series is based but thankfully this prequel makes that unnecessary (although it’s now pretty likely I will read them in future). However, readers familiar with the books and/or the TV series will still find lots to enjoy about The Road to Granchester, such as the first sight of characters who will appear in later books or spotting references to future events that I will have missed.

In the first part of the book, Sidney is exposed to the harsh realities of war as he is caught up in the brutal Battle of Monte Cassino.  Described in gritty and authentic detail, this part of the book will particularly appeal to fans of historical fiction set in World War 2. The death of his best friend, and the circumstances of that event, have a profound effect on Sidney and leave him struggling with his faith and with feelings of guilt.  Only the wise advice of army chaplain, Rev Nev, and Catherine, a nurse, persuade Sidney that, having survived the war against all expectations, he has a duty to use ‘the reward of peace’ wisely.

Back in London, Sidney still struggles to believe that he has a right to happiness or that he deserves the accolade of hero.  Gradually, the conviction grows that his vocation lies in the Church although this decision brings unexpected reactions from family and friends.  His father greets the news with surprise and bewilderment and Amanda, the sister of his best friend, Robert, regards it as a personal betrayal.  Only Sidney’s friend, Freddie responds with any degree of positivity.  As it transpires, Freddie will soon be grateful for Sidney’s support (and Sidney’s nascent deductive instincts) when Freddie is involved in a tragic event.

As Sidney commences his theological training, the reader gets lots of factual information about the process of ordination.  Assigned to the position of curate in war-damaged Coventry, Sidney gains experience of the pastoral duties of a priest, encountering social and moral issues in the manner of  Call the Midwife…but without the need to deliver babies.

The final section of the book explores the slightly spiky, quirky relationship between Sidney and Amanda.  Only readers of the later books or viewers of the series may know why Sidney puts up with Amanda’s at times hurtful, dismissive or downright accusatory comments but to me it just proved he clearly has the patience of a saint!  However, in a neat role reversal, she does finally become the recipient of his confession about the thing that has weighed on his conscience since the death of his best friend.

A spiritual element runs throughout the book.  Sidney’s sincere belief in God is conveyed clearly but the author manages to keep it just the right side of being ‘preachy’.  Rather than the reader feeling like they are on the receiving end of a sermon, it comes across as an authentic insight into Sidney’s character, values and principles.

The Road to Grantchester is the perfect example of a prequel to my mind.  For fans of the series, it provides more background on a character they have grown to love and an insight into the life experiences that have formed him.  For readers coming new to the series, it’s a useful sampler and, I suspect, the enticement they need to add the other books in the series to their wishlist.  I know I have.   It’s a terrific read and one which works equally well as a character study of a young man affected by his wartime experiences or as an introduction to a historical crime series.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Bloomsbury, and NetGalley.

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James RuncieAbout the Author

James Runcie is a writer, director and literary curator. He is the author of ‘The Grantchester Mysteries’, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commissioning Editor, Arts at BBC Radio 4.

(Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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WWW Wednesdays – 20th March ‘19

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

hetty's secret warHetty’s Secret War (Women at War #3) by Rosie Clarke (ebook, courtesy of Aria and NetGalley)

In 1939, with the world on the brink of war, one women faces a future more uncertain than she had ever imagined…

Georgie – when the man she has always loved is sent to France on a secret war office mission every knock of the door fills her with dread of it being the feared telegram boy…

Beth – orphaned as a child, Beth is coming of age and determined to do her bit for the war effort. Caught up in a whirlwind romance, she marries only to become a war widow… and one expecting a baby who will never know his brave father. Can she find happiness again?

Hetty – desperately trying to make her way back from Paris to her beloved family in England, a fateful and tragic encounter brings Hetty to Chateau de Faubourg where she joins the resistance and risks both her heart and her life fighting for charismatic resistance leader Stefan Lefarge…

However dark the times, courage, determination and the power of friendship can overcome the hardships of war.

DOLLMAKER_HB_DEMY.inddThe Dollmaker by Nina Allen (eARC, courtesy of Quercus and NetGalley)

Stitch by perfect stitch, Andrew Garvie makes exquisite dolls in the finest antique style. Like him, they are diminutive but graceful, unique, and with surprising depths. Perhaps that’s why he answers the enigmatic personal ad in his collector’s magazine.

Letter by letter, Bramber Winters reveals more of her strange, sheltered life in an institution on Bodmin Moor, and the terrible events that put her there as a child. Andrew knows what it is to be trapped, and as they knit closer together, he weaves a curious plan to rescue her.

On his journey through the old towns of England, he reads the fairy tales of Ewa Chaplin–potent, eldritch stories which, like her lifelike dolls, pluck at the edges of reality and thread their way into his mind. When Andrew and Bramber meet at last, they will have a choice–to break free and, unlike their dolls, come to life.

A love story of two very real, unusual people, The Dollmaker is also a novel rich with wonders: Andrew’s quest and Bramber’s letters unspool around the dark fables that give our familiar world an uncanny edge. It is this touch of magic that, like the blink of a doll’s eyes, tricks our own.

Pre-order The Dollmaker from Amazon UK (link provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme)


Recently finished (click on title for review)

The Road to GrantchesterThe Road to Grantchester by James Runcie (eARC, courtesy of Bloomsbury and NetGalley)

The captivating prequel to the treasured Grantchester series follows the life, loves and losses of a young Sidney Chambers in post-war London.

It is 1938, and eighteen-year-old Sidney Chambers is dancing the quickstep with Amanda Kendall at her brother Robert’s birthday party at the Caledonia Club. No one can believe, on this golden evening, that there could ever be another war.

Returning to London from the war seven years later, Sidney has gained a Military Cross, and lost his best friend on the battlefields of Italy. The carefree youth that he and his friends were promised has been blown apart, just like the rest of the world – and Sidney, carrying a terrible, secret guilt, must decide what to do with the rest of his life. But Sidney has heard a call: constant, though quiet, and growing ever more persistent. To the incredulity of his family and the derision of his friends – the irrepressible actor Freddie, and the beautiful, spiky Amanda – Sidney must now negotiate his path to God: the course of which, much like true love, never runs smooth. (Review to follow)

Pre-order The Road to Grantchester from Amazon UK (links provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme)

The Saxon WolvesThe Saxon Wolves by Penny Ingham (eARC, courtesy of NetGalley and Random Things Tours)

Britain 455AD. The Roman Empire has fallen. As the daughter of a king and a priestess of the sacred grove, Anya’s life in Germania is one of wealth and privilege – until she dares to speak out against the high priest’s barbaric human sacrifices. Her punishment is exile.

Forced to leave her homeland, she sails to Britannia, to an island that is sliding into chaos and war, as rival kingdoms vie for power. Alone and far from home, Anya must learn to survive amidst the bloodshed, treachery and intrigue of fifth century Britain. Can she find a place to belong – a home, a hearth, a welcome?

The Night TigerThe Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo  (eARC, courtesy of Quercus and NetGalley)

They say a tiger that devours too many humans can take the form of a man and walk among us…

In 1930s colonial Malaya, a dissolute British doctor receives a surprise gift of an eleven-year-old Chinese houseboy. Sent as a bequest from an old friend, young Ren has a mission: to find his dead master’s severed finger and reunite it with his body. Ren has forty-nine days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth forever.

Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker, moonlights as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir that leads her on a crooked, dark trail.

As time runs out for Ren’s mission, a series of unexplained deaths occur amid rumours of tigers who turn into men. In their journey to keep a promise and discover the truth, Ren and Ji Lin’s paths will cross in ways they will never forget. (Review to follow)


What Cathy (will) Read Next

The Path of the KingThe Path of the King by John Buchan (hardcover)

What is the true root of royal blood?

A band of gold belonging to a young Viking prince is passed from generation to generation. Follow this convoluted, yet heroic, path to the making of one of history’s greatest leaders.