Published: 1st November 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillian
Pages: 400 or 13 hours
Format: Audiobook (hired from the library)
RRP: $26.99 for the paperback/ $49.95 for the Audio Cds (12 discs).
Set on the scenic fjords of Norway, The Christmas Lights by bestselling author Karen Swan is a moving Christmas tale of love and heartbreak.
December 2018, and free-spirited Influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen.
June 1936, and fourteen-year old Signy is sent with her sister and village friends to the summer pastures to work as milkmaids, protecting the herd that will sustain the farm through the long, winter months. But miles from home and away from the safety of their families, threat begins to lurk in friendly faces . . .
The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.
The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan is one of those books you kick yourself for not reading earlier. Thankfully for me, this book has only been released for a year, but still … It was the first book by Karen Swan that I’ve read, and it certainly won’t be the last.
I went into The Christmas Lights expecting a fluffy romance story set in the picturesque and romantic Norwegian Fjords. What I got was a gripping dual timeline where contemporary 2018 and historic 1936 collide. There was romance, and festive cheer yes, but there were also darker elements of suspense (and romantic suspense), intrigue and just a whole lot of wonder of the unknown.
The novel itself explored some of my favourite tropes (enemies-to-lovers) and contrasted the public vs private moments of our lives so well that I seriously considered quitting social media. There were the right notes of romance, suspense and a cloying fog of unreliability, that you never really know who to trust and what exactly is going on behind closed doors and business deals. The characters were mostly three dimensional and tangible.
Bo and Zac are social media influencers. Brands pay them exuberant amounts of money to be seen wearing their designs, shopping their items and hanging out in their hotels etc. For four years the pair have been on the road, nomads dictated by the desires of the social media followers and the need to be ”locals off the beaten track’ in places they have never been before. With heavily crafted and curated social media personalities, the pair hire Lenny, their live-in photographer and manager to travel the world with them. But when they give up sunny Somoa for the freezing winter nights of the Norwegian Fjords, cracks begin to show in their posed lives and nothing will ever be the same.
I loved Bo’s character in this book. Right from the get-go, we get the impression that she is tired of walking the line they do between what their curated life is online and their everyday lives as regular people. Although it feels natural to pop her hip and pose the second she hears the camera shutter, she is done with being a model for the rest of the world. She wants more from life … little does she know that the Norwegian Fjords are about it give it to her in bucketloads.
Zac’s character annoyed me. He was vapid, self-centred and thought only about their social media following. Every moment of his life was lived for the cameras and the ‘street-cred’ he gained from climbing some of the world’s most unstable mountains. From early on in the book we can see him ignoring Bo’s concerns about their increasingly public lives invading their private moments, and yet there were moments of gold between him and Bo where I was completely floored by their love, respect and admiration for each other.
Lenny is an unusual character to explain. As he is always lurking behind the camera, forever watching Bo and Zac, the pair have partially learnt to block him out when they go about their daily lives and therefore we get an unbalanced view of him throughout the novel. This complicates things, as his character is so heavily involved in the book, and yet he is almost like a ghost on the page. A comrade and friend-turned-family member to Bo and Zac, a man’s man, with a coke addiction (the soft drink). That’s all we know. He was weirdly one-dimensional.
Anders and his Grandmother Signey were a breath of fresh air. I loved learning about her 1936 (albeit I thought it was a lot longer ago than that for some reason) life as a daughter of a farmer and the responsibility and pressure that built. Signy was strong, indestructible and loyal to a T. She knew what she liked and if you didn’t fit the mould, forget it. Anders, on the other hand, was intriguing. He resented the invasion of Bo and Zac’s social media presence on his personal life, and thought their life a ‘bore’. In many ways, Anders plays a more logical role in this story, as he points out the dangerous and ludicrous ways of their lifestyle.
Karen Swan has done a marvellous job making the environment and scenery such a big part of this story that it almost appears as another character. One that is charming one minute and life-threatening the next. Unpredictable, unrestrained and out for trouble, the Norwegian Fjords will test all of our characters over the course of the two weeks leading up to Christmas and only time will tell if any of them can make it out unscathed.
I adored this book on so many levels. There was light balanced against an unmoving sea of darkness, hope alongside gut-wrenching despair, intrigue, mystery, suspense and a heavy dose of festive good cheer. I loved learning about the Norwegian Fjords and their Christmas traditions and hope to visit – albeit perhaps a tamer part of the country – one day myself.
The Christmas Lights is a book that ticked all the right boxes for me. It evoked a sense of wonder, happiness, and safety that I felt soul-deep. It opened my eyes to a range of experiences and left me guessing until the very last chapter. While I guessed the plot-twist for one side of our story, I never saw the other one coming.
I fear this review has not done this book justice, but if you like romantic suspense novels full of mystery, intrigue, and danger lurking within the very landscape, then I highly recommend this book to you.
To purchase a copy of The Christmas Lights, visit the following online retailers:
Pan Macmillian Australia | Pan Macmillian USA | Amazon AUS | Amazon USA | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Book Depository | Dymocks | QBD
To learn more about Karen Swan, visit the following social media pages: