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Review: ‘In Amber’s Wake’ is an intriguing story of tortured love

In Amber’s Wake is a novel by New Zealand author Christine Leunens. It is the story of Ethan Grieg, a film student, and chronicles a period of his youth in the turbulent 1980s. Written in the first person, we gain a very intimate sense of who Ethan is, and what motivates him. 

As a young man, he falls very deeply for Amber, a women he firsts meets at a music festival. She is beautiful, alluring, but also enigmatic. In some ways a free spirit, it is clear that there is something in Amber’s psyche that creates great turmoil within. 

But, as in any good drama, the deep love Ethan feels for Amber is destined not to be easily satisfied. As the story unfolds we are taken on a journey of secrets, betrayals, and tragedy.

Leunens provides great characters with enough complexity to make them feel very real. One’s loyalty to any one of them can be tested by their inconsistencies and at times selfishness. As a testament to the author’s talent, I changed my sympathies towards several characters on multiple occasions, so cleverly has she constructed them. 

And yet, while there are plenty of twists and curiosities in this novel to keep the reader in a state of suspense, as the book progresses, one of these plot twists involving Ethan and one of the other personas was a little difficult to swallow. I won’t provide a spoiler, but in that one moment, the novel seemed to ‘jump the shark’.  

The story comes back on track, and if you can find a way to just accept the ‘shark jumping’ moment, then you will find that In Amber’s Wake is an intriguing story of tortured love that has a satisfying if bittersweet conclusion. 

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