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The Secret Guests

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  55 ratings  ·  33 reviews
As London endures nightly German bombings, Britain's secret service whisks the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret from England, seeking safety for the young royals on an old estate in Ireland.

Ahead of the German Blitz during World War II, English parents from every social class sent their children to the countryside for safety, displacing more than three million young
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 14th 2020 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Average rating 3.40  · 
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 ·  55 ratings  ·  33 reviews

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Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars for an entertaining historical fiction book.
The premise of this book is that, at the start of the German bombing blitz of England, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are whisked off to Ireland for their safety. Actually according to her Wikipedia biography, they spent this time at Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle is a formidable Castle. I took a visitor tour in 2016.
In any case there are richly drawn characters:
Strafford, the only Protestant Garda detective in the Irish Garda(police) in
Joan Happel
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was drawn to this novel by the intriguing premise of an alternative history. While it is a well-known fact that the British Royal Family, including the young Elizabeth and Margaret, remained in London during the blitz, this novel proposes a “what if” scenario. Elizabeth and Margaret are secreted away to a rundown estate in Ireland belonging to a distant cousin. They are given the aliases of Ellen and Mary, and are accompanied by Celia Nashe, an MI5 agent, posing as their governess. Also ...more
Literary Soirée
I found this book by Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville writing under a nom de plume a compelling twist on the rash of WWII novels out today. It focuses on young British princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, sent for safety during the Blitz to Ireland, neutral during the war but not entirely supportive of England due to the long oppression of the Emerald Isle. The author has a wry poetic style which I loved and his “take” on English-Irish politics played out against the backdrop of the ...more
Donna Davis
It’s World War II, and the Blitz has begun. The Royals are torn, wanting to remain with their subjects and share their misery, but not wanting the risk the well beings of their daughters. It’s decided that the girls must be moved, but with the shipping lanes and skies fraught with peril, where can they go and be safe? Ah, a fine idea: they’ll send them to a cousin in Ireland.

My thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

As historical fiction goes,
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
During WWII, the King and Queen of England stayed put in Buckingham Palace amidst the Blitz, to show solidarity with their people in the chaos, terror, and uncertainty. But, were they willing to put the lives of their young daughters at risk? Particularly when they're in direct line for the throne? Mr. Black (pen name of the award-winning author John Banville) has heard a story that they did not. And he's here imagined what might have happened.

"Ellen" and "Mary" are spirited West to Ireland in
3.5 * rounded up to 4

When the bombing in London began during WWII, many Londoners looked for a safe haven for their children. The King and Queen of England were no different. Although they were determined to remain in London for the morale of the country, they did choose to remove their daughters from the threat of the London Blitz.

In this story, it was decided neutral Ireland was the safest place to send them. They were spirited out of London in the night to a distant relative’s estate in the
Bruin Mccon
In The Secret Guests, we get an alternate history novel that reads like a slow-moving horror story.

The alternate history here is apparently minor—Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret take refuge in Ireland rather than staying home with their parents during World War 2. This gives the reader pause because the book’s plot otherwise creeps along and it’s hard to know what to expect. Even a small change can have a big impact and WW2 was nearly lost many times in our actual history.

This is more of a
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"The secret guests" was such a let down for me. It's described as an "enthralling historical mystery" and the only thruth in that is that is set in an historical moment. Period. No mystery. No enthralling at all. With such an interesting premise I was expecting so much more. The "secrets guests" of the title are merely secondary characters, the story being centered around the people trying to protect them. The first couple of chapters got me intrigued but then nothing happened till the last 15%, ...more
Wasn't a fan. Definitely was expecting more from this novel. The synopsis *sounded* interesting, but it failed to keep my attention. I wish Ellen and Mary had been featured more (they basically were the title, after all).

Rec'd arc from Netgalley
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black is a creative novel about Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and their time in Ireland after being sent there “under the radar” for their safety during the Blitz that occurred in London during WWII.

What I found most fascinating was a behind the scenes, closer look at relations between Ireland and England at this time, and as close as the two countries were geographically, that they were far apart in regards to inter government and political differences and
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was so looking forward to this book based upon the description but unfortunately, it did not live up to the hype of multifaceted wartime thriller. For my review, I will make this short and sweet and lightly express my disappointment by listing bullet points.
1. The descriptions went way overboard, I don’t ever remember reading a book that went into the depth of describing every scene in detail as this one. Way to wordy on the scenes.
2. I wish we would have dwelt more on the children with
Sam Sattler
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
As part of Germany’s attempt to destroy British war industry during World War II, German bombers dropped thousands of bombs on London and the country’s other key industrial and port cities. The concentrated bombing campaign that began in 1940 and ended in 1941 would ultimately see the destruction of more than one million homes and 20,000 civilian deaths in London alone. Roughly ten percent of those killed during the London Blitz were children despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of ...more
Jan 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
In this entertaining work of historical fiction, Benjamin Black (pseudonym of writer John Banville) speculates on a possible event involving the British royal family during the blitz. While history has it that the royal daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, remained in London with their parents during that time, The Secret Guests posits a different course. Here, the two princesses, with their names changed for their safety, are transported to neutral Ireland and Clonmillis Hall. A young MI5 agent, ...more
Jean Kolinofsky
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
As London suffered the nightly attacks by German planes, the King and Queen chose to remain in the city in support of the people. Their daughters, however, were sent to neutral Ireland to a supposedly safe location. Under the names of Ellen and Mary, they are protected by Strafford of the Irish Gardai and Celia Nash, a British agent, but secrets are difficult to keep. Following years of oppression by the English, there are those who suffered the loss of loved ones during the Irish War of ...more
joyce w. laudon
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Many readers will know that literary fiction author, John Banville, uses the pen name Benjamin Black. As Mr Black he has written a well regarded series of mysteries that take place in 1950s Ireland.

This historical/suspense novel also takes place in Ireland. It is a dark time for Britain as bombs regularly fell in London. Based on what the author thinks happened, this novel posits that fourteen year old Elizabeth and ten year old Mary were sent to Ireland to keep them safe.

This slow burn of a
Kim McGee
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
WWII is raging in London and fearing for the safety of their young daughters, the Royal family is separated and Elizabeth and Margaret are sent to a safe remote manor in Ireland. They are tucked away using false names and under strict security yet the chance that their identity is known could alert the Germans putting them in great danger. Even though they are homesick, the girls deal with their circumstances with their usual calm detached manner but the Duke of Edenmore, the girl's secret ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black is a creative novel about Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and their time in Ireland after being sent there “under the radar” for their safety during the Blitz that occurred in London during WWII.

What I found most fascinating was a behind the scenes, closer look at relations between Ireland and England at this time, and as close as the two countries were geographically, that they were far apart in regards to inter government and political differences and
Melissa Dee
Jan 13, 2020 rated it liked it
The Secret Guests tells the story of the evacuation from London during the blitz of the royal princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. In a remarkably poorly managed evacuation, the girls are sent to the estate of a distant relative under the guard of inexperienced and politically suspect bodyguards. The two girls, raised to be “royal” and thus stoic in the advent of unpleasant circumstances, are still just little girls.

I suspect this story was largely historically accurate, and as such it was an
Deborah Lincoln
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are spirited away to a seedy country house in the middle of nowhere County Tipperary to avoid the Blitz, guarded by a Protestant Garda detective with an intriguingly vague background, a female Secret Service officer who could be the poster woman for #MeToo, and a bumbling band of Irish Republican soldiers led by none other than the son of Eamon De Valera (who turns out to be the most sympathetic character, drawn in just a couple quick paragraphs by a master of ...more
What if the Princesses Elizabeth, 14, and Margaret, 10, took shelter in neutral Ireland for safety during the Blitz? The girls, renamed Ellen and Mary arrive at Clonmillis Hall in rural County Tipperary along with an MI5 agent and a Detective Garda to protect them. They upset the sleepy routines of the household of their host, the Duke of Edenmore. The inconveniences start as amusing incidents and then turn dangerous when the identity of the two secret guests become an issue.
(I received
Oct 07, 2019 rated it liked it
The Secret Guests
My thanks to #NetGalley for this ebook in exchange for an honest review. Benjamin Black explored the relationship between England and Ireland during WWII as he fictionalized the story of the King’s daughters Margaret and Elizabeth. It has been rumored that the young princesses had been secreted away in a safe house in Ireland during the Blitz. The Secret Guests takes many liberties, but also gives the reader an inside look at the ravages of war.
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow! The Secret Guests is a truly special novel. I read the whole book in one sitting. It is an exceptional historical suspense novel; a well thought out, very entertaining story. The author has a wonderful talent for establishing the relationships of all the characters. I look forward to reading more books from this author. I was provided an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
Oct 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I've long enjoyed Mr. Black's Quirk series, and so was interested when I saw The secret guests listed on NetGalley. Although I did enjoy the book, I didn't feel it was his strongest work. The princesses were actually almost peripherals, existing as a reason for all the other characters to be where they were, and for the action taking place, but not fleshed out as characters themselves. Although the central characters, Celia Nash and Detective Strafford, were a bit better defined, I never really ...more
Julie Stevens
Dec 01, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting alternative historical fiction.
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it

Review posted at Tzer Island book blog:
Annette Geiss
Could not continue to read. Just not a good fit for me.
Chris Markley
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Thanks to the publisher for providing an ARC
Donna Huber
I found this book to be pretty boring. A lot of nothing was going on until the last 20% of the book and even that action felt flat. Full review soon.
I was looking forward to reading this fictionalized account of Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and their decampment to rural Ireland during World War II.

The beginning of the book sets the scene well with Margaret watching the Blitz from her bedroom window at the Palace. I enjoyed the details involved in putting this whole plan into motion. Overall the princesses are pretty one dimensional and secondary to story. Strafford, the young Garda detective is the main character of this story.

Kristen McDermott
My review of this book will appear in Historical Novels Review issue 91 (February 2020)
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Pen name for John Banville

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children's novel and a