Photographer Lucy Cardwell has recently lost her troubled father, Tom. While sifting through his papers, she finds he’d been researching an uncle she never knew he’d had. Intrigued, she visits her father’s childhood home, the once beautiful Carlyon Manor. She meets an old woman named Beatrice who has an extraordinary story to tell.
A Gathering Storm is a past-present tale, however the majority of the story is told in the past and Lucy’s investigation in the present is mainly used as a framework as her won story is not given much depth. The mystery behind the identity of Lucy’s father is easy to guess but that’s okay because that isn’t really the point of the tale as it is more concerned with how the characters got to that point in the first place. Much of the story is told by Beatrice in the present, so we really have to read between the lines to get any idea of why Angelina behaved the way she did as Angelina’s actions are very much coloured by Beatrice’s take. Although Lucy isn’t completely an impartial observer, there is enough distance between the past and the present for her to see things with a different perspective and I liked how her questions gave Beatrice food for thought even after all these years. This is especially important because the majority of the main players are long dead, including Angelina, so Beatrice needs to find closure in a different way.
The author does a great job of contrasting the idyllic childhood experienced by the characters in Cornwall with the horrors of the war and Beatrice’s job with FANY means she is witness to some particularly harrowing scenes. As interesting as Beatrice’s work with FANY was, I have to say I was more interested in her espionage work and I really wish the author had spent more time on this but it happens far too late in the novel to be explored further. Although the spying trips to France are dealt with really quickly, you do get the sense of risk being taken on a daily basis, especially by the French resistance, and it is just a shame they weren’t a bigger part of Beatrice’s story. In fact, I’d have loved for the whole book to have been about Beatrice sacrificing her child to do espionage work for her country.
By the time the war ends, Beatrice is a bona fide war hero, yet she still can’t get her child back from Angelina. While we are told Beatrice and Rafe eventually got married and continued to fight to get Tom back, I had a hard time believing Beatrice couldn’t get him back for the reasons stated. Since the custody of Tom was such an important part of this story, I do feel it could’ve been explored a little more, particularly to show the breakdown in the relationships between the two families which obviously became very bitter. The last few chapters seem very rushed as a result which was a pity.