The Amber Crane

Written by Malve von Hassell
Review by Valerie Adolph

Set mostly in the Baltic port of Stolpműnde during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), this novel travels occasionally to the time of the Second World War. Both periods see mass movements of refugees along the southern shore of the Baltic as foreign armies invade.

Peter Glienke, however, is more concerned with his daily trials as apprentice to Master Nowak, a respected craftsman working with amber, and a member of the Guild that regulates all standards and prices in the amber industry. Amber can occasionally be found on the seashore near Stolpmȕnde, although walking along the shore is forbidden.

One day, while walking on the forbidden shore, Peter picks up two exceptional pieces of raw amber. He keeps these a secret, but finds they transport him to meet Lioba, struggling to escape the armies of WW2. He is amazed at the changes he sees—trains, a bicycle, ships that move without sails—but he recognizes one thing: the flood of refugees, destitute and desperate, trying to escape war. Despite his own rebellion and family issues, Peter is allowed to take the exam that could make him a journeyman amber worker and establish his future.

This thoroughly researched novel provides insight into the amber trade and medieval Guilds at the time of the Hanseatic League. However, the long paragraphs of information do not enhance its readability, and they weaken the flow of the narrative. The wide cast of characters are generally well-drawn. Kudos to this author for introducing us to a time and place seldom presented in historical fiction.