D-Day is approaching. They don’t know where or when, but the Germans know it’ll be soon, and for Felicity “Flick” Clariet, the stakes have never been higher. A senior agent in the ranks of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) responsible for sabotage, Flick has survived to become one of Britain’s most effective operatives in Northern France. She knows that the Germans’ ability to thwart the Allied attack depends upon their lines of communications, and in the days before the invasion no target is of greater strategic importance than the largest telephone exchange in Europe. But when Flick and her Resistance-leader husband try a direct, head-on assault that goes horribly wrong, her world turns upside down. Her group destroyed, her husband missing, her superiors unsure of her, her own confidence badly shaken, she has one last chance at the target, but the challenge, once daunting, is now near impossible. The new plan requires an all-woman team, none of them professionals, to be assembled and trained within days. Code-named the Jackdaws, they will attempt to infiltrate the exchange under the noses of the Germans—but the Germans are waiting for them now and have plans of their own. There are secrets Flick does not know—secrets within the German ranks, secrets among her hastily recruited team, secrets among those she trusts the most. And as the hours tick down to the point of no return, most daunting of all, there are secrets within herself. . . .
Jackdaws by Ken Follett is a book I borrowed when I ran out of my own to read, but based on the description, I would’ve picked it up anyway. It’s a different type of WWII historical fiction than I’m used to reading—action based as opposed to emotional stories about the effects of the war on people and the hardships they suffer through.
I loved the idea of this story. A group of badass women going behind enemy lines to help bring down the Nazis? Yes, please! I read Pillars of the Earth earlier this year and really enjoyed it and Follett’s writing style, so I went into Jackdaws thinking it’d be a fast paced, interesting story that was well written.
Boy, was I wrong.
I don’t know where to start. Wait, yes I do. The writing! The absolute worst part of this book was the writing. I remember reading complaints about Follett’s style in Pillars of the Earth, but nothing about that book bothered me. Every page of Jackdaws bothered me. It was very basic writing that laid things out as they happened in the most basic way.
I’m usually not one to complain about the use of adverbs but Follett’s overuse of them stood out on every page and drove me insane. The characters were always “thinking (fill in adverb of your choice)” or realizing something “in despair.” He reused the same phrases so many times. I can’t stand when characters suddenly realize something or think “with a surge of hope.” We should be seeing these things happen and should understand what the characters realize without the words “she/he realized” being used every single time.
Jackdaws was full of other examples of this type of writing. Everything was laid out for readers plainly—characters overanalyzed themselves and sometimes were a little too perceptive about other characters’ flaws and general ways two seconds after meeting them. Also, how many times does it need to mentioned that the main character, Flick, is short and petite? I wanted to scream at the book “Yes I understand she’s petite and strong! Move on!” It had me rolling my eyes too many times to count.
Follett kept over explaining things. Readers aren’t stupid, we can determine for ourselves the kinds of relationships between characters when you show us how characters interact. It’s unnecessary to continuously state the type of relationships characters have and it’s unbelievable when a new character understands everything about a relationship immediately upon meeting the other characters and hearing them speak two sentences to each other.
This book was full of predictable drama in the characters’ personal lives. Follett was trying to add dramatic subplots that distract the characters from their mission at times, but every single one was bad. I saw the personal “surprises” coming from the start. This won’t spoil it for you, but how much insta-love can you pack into a book about WWII action? A lot, apparently.
I will say that there were some unexpected plot twists in this book that did manage to surprise me, but his writing ruined the impact these twists were supposed to have. The characters, despite his efforts to show us their personal sides, were kind of just there. When surprising things happened my only reaction was “Oh. Didn’t see that coming.” (Read that in your most monotone, uninterested voice.) Follett didn’t make me care about these characters enough to care when stuff happened to them.
I hated the ending so much. It was so cheesy. I seriously debated going to buy some crackers for all the cheese Follett served up in the last scene. Completely awful.
I’m truly disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book. I still really like some of the basic ideas—an action based WWII story, a group of secret agents plotting against the Nazis, an all female team ready to risk their lives to destroy a target right under the Nazis’ noses—but Follett did not create a captivating or exciting story. I think I might just stick to his Pillars of the Earth style books.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments!