I'd never heard of Bodie Thoene before last Autumn, when I happened to read a few of her books. I found them a bit over-violent in places, but with very good characters and exciting plots. So I was pleased when a friend gave me several more of her books, on moving away from Cyprus.
I've just finished reading 'The Gates of Zion', which is the first in the 'Zion Chronicles' series. It's set in Palestine in 1947, just after the end of the second world war, including the time when Israel was granted political status as a nation.
It mainly features Ellie, a young American photographer, who has been staying with her uncle - an archaeologist - and photographing some artefacts. Unknown to her, his assistant Moshe is an active Zionist, smuggling Jewish people (many of them holocaust survivors) into the country on a ship.
The start of the book is very political, and quite confusing with a large number of characters. It took me a while to get into it; I nearly gave up a couple of times, and that's unusual for me. However I persevered, and by about half way through the story had become more interesting; once again the main characters were good, and mostly believable, and the plot exciting enough that I wanted to know what happened.
I did skim some of the political discussion, and much of the fast action - mainly rioting and violence - so as to focus on what was, for me, the more interesting part of the story: what would happen to Ellie, to a young lad who helps her, and to a young woman who is a refugee.
The ending was satisfying, albeit including a rather huge (although predictable) coincidence, and a few unlikely last-minute escapes. So I'm glad I finished it, although I'm not exactly in a hurry to read the next in the series.
The writing is good - fast-paced and crisps, without too much explicit detail of blood and gore. I did find myself annoyed that the book seemed so very pro-Jewish and anti-Muslim, but I suppose that's the general American slant on Middle Eastern politics. There were good Muslims in the story (mostly as shadowy minor characters), and one or two Jews who turned traitor, but it felt rather unbalanced.
I also found myself surprisingly annoyed by the racism against the British shown by the author. The ugly non-word 'Britisher' is used several times, as is the assumption that all Brits are well-meaning but clumsy and boorish. Some of them are even described as 'slurping' their coffee. Ugh. The Highland Infantry soldiers speak with what looks like Cockney accents, and it seems very bizarre that while the Arabs and the Polish Jews seem able to speak in regular English, all the Brits in the story are described explicitly as having 'thick' accents. This even includes a BBC radio presenter, in days when strong accents were never used on the radio - only 'Kings' English' was allowed.
It's a pity that these comments were allowed into the story; I'm no patriot, but all these subtle anti-British snubs jarred rather strongly, as did the rather bizarre idea that the Americans 'won' World War II. Perhaps this book isn't really intended for anyone outside the USA (where that myth apparently still holds true in some circles). Still, in many ways this novel is an eye-opener to the kinds of situations that probably did happen, and on the whole is very well-researched, so I should probably just forgive the strongly American slant.
There's a Christian theme too, but the author manages this very well, in context, without preaching or over-emphasizing her points.
Recommended in a low-key sort of way to anyone who enjoys historical novels and doesn't mind US bias.
Review copyright © Sue's Book Reviews, 22nd June 2008