Book review: Beneath a Starless Sky by Tessa Harris

I’m always attracted to books set in the 1930s, and having read Tessa Harris’s other historical novels, I knew this one would be gripping and meticulously researched.

Munich 1930: Smoke filled the air. Lilli Sternberg’s quickening heart sounded an alarm as she rounded the street corner. Lifting her gaze to the rooftops, a roaring blaze of thick flames engulfed the side of the building and joined the stars to fill the black sky. Her father’s shop was no more.

Lilli Sternberg longs to be a ballet dancer. But outside the sanctuary of the theatre, her beloved city is in chaos and Munich is no longer a place for dreams. The Nazi party are gaining power and the threats to those who deviate from the party line are increasing. Jewish families are being targeted and their businesses raided, even her father’s shop was torched because of their faith.

When Lilli meets Captain Marco Zeiller during a chance encounter, her heart soars. He is the perfect gentleman and her love for him feels like a bright hope under a bleak sky. But battle lines are being drawn, and Marco has been spotted by the Reich as an officer with great potential. A relationship with Lilli would compromise them both.

Will Lilli be able to escape the threats facing her family, and how much is she willing to risk for the man she loves? An absolutely gripping and emotional historical fiction novel about love, courage and betrayal for fans of My Name is Eva and The Woman of War.

My review

Having read a lot of contemporary novels recently, I really enjoyed the chance to go back in time for this one and was swept away by the tale of forbidden love between a Jewish dancer and German/Italian soldier.

It starts in 1940 with a heart-wrenching prologue as Nazi officers arrive at an old woman’s home demanding to know where Lillian Sternberg is. We’re then taken back ten years to when Lilli is a dancer. She falls in love with Captain Zeiller despite her parents’ misgivings but is heartbroken when she receives a telegram from him breaking off the relationship and with nothing left to lose she heads off for America where she dances on the stage and in a film with Fred Astaire before her career is halted by a foot injury. Her success brings her to the attention of the rich and famous but while she’s basking in the spotlight she’s also increasingly disturbed by the letters from home describing the growing Nazi threat in Germany.

What I especially liked about it was the espionage angle and the inclusion of real-life characters like the Prince of Wales and his mistress Wallis Simpson. Lilli infiltrates their circle to look for evidence that they are supporting the fascist regime. In a wonderfully tense scene, she’s invited to dinner at Fort Belvedere with the Prince, Wallis and their guests Oswald Mosley and Diana Guiness. She has to hide her revulsion as a Jew to being served pork and the anti semitic views expressed by the guests – and to her horror she’s invited to become an ambassador for the pro fascist Anglo-German Fellowship.

After the King’s death and King Edward’s abdication, she’s a guest at the royal couple’s wedding and goes with them to Germany where Goebbels has a proposition for her. I can’t say any more about the plot without giving away spoilers but this is a dazzling and devastating story that had me hooked to the end.

Beneath a Starless Sky is published by HQ Digital and available as an ebook now and in paperback on February 4th.

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