Thursday 22 February 2024

Book Review — The Matchstick Boy by Rowena Kinread


The Matchstick Boy
By Rowena Kinread

Publication Date: 10th October 2023
Publisher: Goldcrest Books International Ltd 
Page Length: 329 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

When his young brother, Josef, is killed by a rock avalanche, Jakob believes it is murder. He had seen someone on the mountain ridge, above the scree, before it began to roll. But who would want to kill a child, and why? Jakob suspects Ramun, the privileged son of the owner of a matchstick factory, but nobody takes him seriously and he is powerless to obtain justice.

Thirty years later, Jakob’s profoundly deaf daughter is raped by Ramun and becomes with child. Determined to gain justice for his daughter, Jakob unearths a myriad of well-kept secrets in the tight-lipped community, but is anyone willing to tell the truth?

Just as he thinks he has uncovered all the facts, he realises he has made a vital mistake all along. Nothing is really as it seems.

Bad news travels fast in Weissbrügg. The storm that came had no mercy and claimed seven farms, burning them to the ground. But on that dreadful night, Anton Schneider lost more than just his farm. He lost his beloved wife, Lena, because of a complication in childbirth. Somehow, he has to find the courage to pick up the shattered pieces of his life and start a new one with his children. But, unbeknownst to Anton, the storm was just the beginning.

The Matchstick Boy by Rowena Kinread is a gripping historical family saga that does not threaten to mesmerise, it really does.

Kinread's book impressively combines meticulous research, thrilling action, and a stark portrayal of the characters' impoverished conditions. The detailed account of factory owners' exploitation and the hazardous working conditions the characters endure is described in exquisite detail. The events in this novel unfold without pause, leaving no time to catch one's breath. It's nearly impossible to tear yourself away from this mesmerizingly brilliant story. One more page became one more chapter. It's a book that demands your undivided attention.

The story is very fluid, and it flawlessly moves from one generation to the next. Even though I enjoyed Anton's story, it was Jakob's that truly captivated me. Jakob's attitude towards life mirrors that of his father - both share the desire to escape poverty, but they soon come to understand that dreams are more easily attainable for the wealthy, rather than those who have less. And yet, Jakob is determined to better his situation, he wants to work his way out of poverty, and he wants to become skilled in a trade. Jakob is a character that one cannot help but like. At times his story is utterly heartbreaking, as is his father’s, but somehow he finds the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I thought Jakob’s depiction was wonderfully portrayed. He was a character that one could get behind and root for.

At first, I felt a strong sense of sympathy for Regina, but as the narrative unfolded, my feelings towards her turned bitter. Her marriage to Anton was certainly no love match, and she certainly failed in her task to be a loving mother to Anton’s children. She is, however, ambitious, and wants more from life than what she has. Much of her thoughts are centred around money and she has no qualms about forcing the children into work at the matchstick factory, and although child labour was not uncommon, I really did feel for Anton as this was not what he wanted for his children. But saying that I wish that Anton had more of a backbone and stood up to his wife. However, Regina does have her moments, especially in her treatment of Anneli.

However, what Regina does is nothing in comparison to Ramun Lauber’s actions. Ramun has every advantage. He is the son of a factory owner, and he has only known a life of privilege. During his childhood, he experiments with arson, and later as an adult, he escalates to committing more serious offences. Ramun's employees, especially women, suffer greatly under his leadership. He is an abhorrent man with an even more abhorrent appetite and he preys on the vulnerable. However, he consistently evades punishment for his crimes and never faces consequences. Thankfully, that changes by the end of the novel. While undeniably the primary antagonist in this book, his actions effectively drive the story.

Another character that I think is worthy of mention is Margot. Margot possesses the most gentle disposition, yet she is exceptionally skilled in the art of making lace. So skilled in fact that she soon makes a living out of it. I really enjoyed reading about Margot, she was like a burst of sunlight on a cold winter day. I thought her character was wonderfully drawn and came across as very realistic in the telling.

Helga was another character who was incredibly disagreeable. She is so selfish she will not even try to feed her brother’s motherless baby and she always thinks she is above everyone else. Her airs and graces mean little when she finds herself in a desperate situation of her own. Although one should feel sorry for Helga it is impossible to do so, for she is a very disagreeable character!

The historical detailing of this story is staggering. Kinread's elegant and authoritative penmanship reflects the countless hours she has devoted to research. The historical setting of this story is splendidly portrayed and I really felt like I had stepped into a portal and travelled back in time.

With a masterful stroke of the quill, Kinread has hooked her readers with a story that's impossible to set aside. My expectations were completely met, and this novel went above and beyond. If you're a fan of family sagas, you absolutely need to add this book to your reading list.

The Matchstick Boy by Rowena Kinread is a truly wonderful novel and I am looking forward to reading more books from this talented author. There is a realism to this story that is almost tangible. It is in all ways a complete success and one I would not hesitate to recommend.

Review by Ellie Yarde
Yarde Book Reviews & Book Promotion

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The Matchstick Boy

Rowena Kinread

Rowena Kinread grew up in Ripon, Yorkshire with her large family and a horde of pets. Keen on travelling, her first job was with Lufthansa in Germany.

She began writing in the nineties. Her special area of interest is history, after researching her ancestry and finding family roots in Ireland with the Dalriada clan, particularly this era. Her debut fiction novel titled “The Missionary” is a historical novel about the dramatic life of St. Patrick. It was published by Pegasus Publishers on April 29th, 2021 and has been highly appraised by The Scotsman, The Yorkshire Post and the Irish Times.

Her second novel “The Scots of Dalriada” centres around Fergus Mór, the founder father of Scotland and takes place in 5th century Ireland and Scotland, and is published by Pegasus Publishers.

The author lives with her husband in Bodman-Ludwigshafen, Lake Constance, Germany. They have three children and six grandchildren.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx