World War Two, two boys, a fateful rivalry.
That is the essence of this trilogy: a boyhood rivalry that begins as war threatens, develops during the wartime years and climaxes at a time of post-war austerity and adolescence. When the trilogy ends, the two are young adults making their separate ways but the relationship between them is still a huge issue.
In its first draft, the book gained the Editors’ Desk on the Harper Collins writers site, Authonomy, in the face of competition with several thousand other novels. It won a full critique from a Harper Collins editor. The main part is quoted below. It was also runner-up in the Yeovil Novel Prize and has gained a B.R.A.G medallion.
HARPER COLLINS’ REVIEW
‘A Relative Invasion – Book I. Intrusion’ by Rosalind Minett
Tensions are brewing in England as World War II is set in motion. As the adults’ anxiety spills over into five-year-old Billy’s world, his own battle is just beginning. An only child, he longs for a playmate, and when his aunt, uncle and cousin move nearby, he thinks his dream has come true. But cousin Kenneth turns out to be darkly manipulative and a bully who haunts Billy’s days, though the adults see only his porcelain looks and flawless manners. With emotionally distant parents who can’t understand his plight, Billy latches on to the idea of owning the precious Cossack sabre of his father’s friend. This icon sustains him through the invasion of Kenneth, evacuation and the shock of war, but will it destroy as well as save him?
Minett weaves a powerful and compelling narrative with strong and relatable characters, and offers an evocative portrayal of England’s war-time home front. Billy is immediately sympathetic and Minett perfectly captures a child’s viewpoint, adding a gentle and honest humour to the story. The mounting tensions between Billy and Kenneth parallel the rising agitation in Europe, and make the underlying manipulations of war more understandable to children. In terms of dialogue, it rings true both between the children and strained conversation of the adults. The author is deft in capturing that sense of tightly controlled emotions in the parents’ characters and in the act of showing, not telling. The scene where Billy’s mother ‘wields the wooden spoon viciously round the edges of the bowl’ is a great example.
There is good pacing between chapters, and the build-up of tension is managed well. Beginning the chapters with news updates helps to orient the reader and reinforce simultaneous narrative of what’s happening in Billy’s world and on the home front. The portrayal of family relationships is very well done and throws light on what attitudes and values were like in 1930s England – Billy’s mother greeting his father at the door and taking his briefcase; tense, sideways comments about jobs and money; and the sense of social and familial obligation. This and the war’s tension is offset by the humour that comes through when seeing it all through Billy’s five-year-old eyes. His misheard expressions – ‘jelly face’ for ‘angelic face’; ‘Nasties’ for ‘Nazis’ – add a warm comedic element. The pivotal scene where Billy and Angela find the Cossack sabre is very effective – it foreshadows the violence about to erupt in Europe, and shows through Billy the human impulse of both the reverence for the weapon but also the temptation to use it impulsively.