Power to the Pen

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By Ellen Butler


Indie Reader Discovery Award Ellen Butler’s THE BRASS COMPASS relates the adventure of Lily Saint James, a young, wealthy, beautiful American whose upbringing and education—she speaks perfect German and French—makes her the ideal OSS spy to work behind enemy lines during WWII. But when her spy network folds, she’s forced to take to the hills, literally, to try and reach the Allied forces amassing in France. And if the stakes weren’t high enough already, she’s carrying a film cartridge full of vital information necessary to defeat the Nazis.

The author has crafted a legitimate page-turner, with danger behind every turn. Lily’s journey boasts abundant excitement, suspense and action. Lily Saint James herself is a terrific character with an interesting background: she learned the languages that make her such an effective spy in a girls’ finishing school. Not a superhero, she’s nevertheless resourceful, smart, cool (on the outside), with a keen instinct for survival. She’s also incredibly likeable and it’s a joy to spend the book with her. The story is told in first person, which works effectively for the immediate scenes, but becomes a little awkward for the extensive background material. While Lily’s history is interesting and important to the story, there’s a little too much of it, and having her tell it herself feels unnatural at times. Similarly, the first-person narrative hurts the love-story a bit, too; Lily doesn’t express herself quite intimately enough for this, even directly and privately to the reader.

Those complaints are secondary, however, to the action/adventure, which keeps the suspense at a high tension level. Enormous research went into this novel, and the information is both convincing and well integrated into the story. THE BRASS COMPASS also doesn’t pretend to get into the nitty-gritty of the realities of war; this is pure entertainment. While the book doesn’t dwell on the horrors of war, neither does it whitewash the misery. There are surprises in the story and the narrative isn’t organized in a traditional way. Just when you think you know how it’s going to go, it veers off, and when you think it might be over, there’s more, all which makes for an interesting, unexpected read. For WWII buffs, history buffs, romance addicts, or those who just enjoy a fast-paced adventure story, Ellen Butler’s THE BRASS COMPASS delivers.

~Dave Eisenstark for IndieReader