Book review: A Child in Burracombe by Lilian Harry

You certainly can't accuse saga writer Lilian Harry of ignoring her army of fans'¦ with many still mourning the end of her much-loved Burracombe Village series, she has treated them to a welcome return visit.
A Child in Burracombe by Lilian HarryA Child in Burracombe by Lilian Harry
A Child in Burracombe by Lilian Harry

The Burracombe books, set in a charming Devonshire village in the 1950s, have explored the lives and loves of the residents of a typically British rural community coming to terms with the aftermath of the Second World War and entering an exciting new decade.

Starring an engaging cast of characters that have become almost as familiar to readers as their own families, and steeped in rich period detail, Harry’s gentle, nostalgic tales have won thousands of hearts and earned her a reputation as an outstanding storyteller.

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And now she takes us back to where it all began – the enchanting, quintessentially West Country village on the edge of Dartmoor, surrounded by heather-clad hills and rocky tors – in an emotion-packed prequel to the series inspired by real events and set during the turmoil of wartime.

In Burracombe in 1943, Dig for Victory is more than just a wartime slogan. While the young men are away, everyone at home knows the war effort needs them too. Whether it’s Land Girls on the farms, wives and mothers having to make do and mend or the villagers learning how to stretch rations to keep spirits up, there is always something to be done to help.

When the Napier family’s manor house, Burracombe Barton, is requisitioned as a children’s home for war orphans, the villagers rally round to welcome their newest arrivals, especially a desperately unhappy little girl called Maddy Simmons.

The nine-year-old youngster, whose father was killed at sea during naval action, is still reeling from losing her mother and baby brother in the Portsmouth bombing raids, and now she has been cruelly separated from her beloved older sister Stella after they were sent to different children’s homes.

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As Maddy explores the pretty village and makes new friends, she begins to feel at home and realises that Burracombe is the kind of place where you will always have someone to turn to, even when times are hard. Could this be somewhere that she can finally call home?

Harry works her storytelling magic as we see Burracombe in a fascinating new light, struggling to cope with the rigours and demands of wartime, and exploring the moving childhood story of one of the village’s best-loved characters.

There is also the chance to discover the back stories of some of Burracombe’s supporting cast, the hardy folk who have never hit the headlines but who have been an integral part of the life of the village throughout this wonderful series.

Packed with drama and romance, tears and laughter, happiness and heartbreak, this is the perfect accompaniment to the Burracombe series and a revealing insight into the harsh realities of wartime.

(Orion, hardback, £19.99)