Book Review – Young Lions by Andrew Mackay
A book review of Young Lions by Andrew Mackay, the first in a series of four books featuring the two characters so far.
Young Lions is an alternate history set in a WW2 where Operation Sealion worked and the Germans managed to invade the UK. The book followed two teenage boys that are members of their school’s cadet force and get involved in both the initial fighting and then the British Resistance to occupation.
This is a boy’s own adventure, with a horrific body count. Andrew Mackay is a history teacher, and it shows in the level of detail in the story. The history is very well researched and the detail ensures that the story remains consistent throughout and nothing jars the narrative flow.
The Young Lions of the title are both teenage boys in their fourth year at a boarding school in the fictional town of Hereward in East Anglia. Both of the boys (Alan Mitchell and Sam Roberts) are members of their school officer training corps and join the local Home Guard battalion when it is called to fight off a German landing near King’s Lynn.
The action is described comparably with other first hand accounts of battle in world war two that I’ve read (and I specialise in that sort of history). The battle ends with an atrocity commited by the SS, which both boys witness although neither of them is directly involved. Again this matches well with the witness testimony of similar events in WW2. So all entirely believable.
One of the bits I particularly liked about Young Lions was that all the characters have both strengths and weaknesses, even the Germans. In fact there isn’t really a clear cut line between good and evil, both sides commit atrocities, although the SS ones seem more random and crueler than the resistance ones. Nevertheless innocents are killed by both sides.
Another interesting bit is the inter-service rivalry between the occupying forces. This seems to be a close parallel to reality, and is something often missed in fiction. Having read hundreds of WW2 histories it is clear that the real reason that the Germans lost (apart from biting off way more than they could chew) is because they really didn’t get inter-service co-operation and the need for a war economy from the start.
One of the key threads through the book was the rivalry between the Army and the SS, as well as the need for the occupation commanders to cover up where their men screwed up. All very realistic in my view and making the story even more interesting.
An aspect of the story that was a little jarring though was the essentially impulsive and unplanned nature of most of the violence, although some of this is the characterisation of Sam Roberts. Sam is a relatively niaive teenager when it comes to planning and he doesn’t always think through the consequences, nor does he stop to consider whether the motivations of others are as obvious as they seem. This leads him to getting into situations where rapid lethal violence and a large element of luck are required to get him through. In a few of these situations other people pay the price.
The body count is incredibly high, I reckon at least 2,500 civilians are killed plus hundreds of soldiers. I didn’t really count, but so many that it would provoke a severe response from higher commanders, which we see a little of, but not a huge amount.
Overall I very much enjoyed Young Lions by Andrew Mackay and I would recommend it to anyone who likes alternate histories or who likes WW2 based action and adventure stories.