The Road to Grantchester

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 May 2019

Member Reviews

The Road to Grantchester is a prequel. So it at least aims to give some background to Sidney Chambers, before he became the vicar of Grantchester. And before he began working cases with Geordie Keating.

And that’s probably why I didn’t like this book as much as I might have. It’s more of a character study of Sidney Chambers pre-Grantchester than anything. There’s not a lot of plot, and that was a problem for me. I don’t have the patience with books that don’t have that much going on. That’s not to say this was a bad book – it’s a wholly personal issue this – but I arguably would have enjoyed it more.

But, I did mostly like the characters, so it wasn’t like it was such a huge slog. I know more of Sidney from the ITV series than from the books, but it was nice to see that the characterisation was pretty similar (Sidney is still a complete dumbass when it comes to girls). I liked him, and I liked seeing his whole family. But what this book managed to do was make me dislike Amanda Kendall even more than I did watching the show (even as I was incredibly bitter by how much she got screwed over with her characterisation in that). She just felt kind of shallow and selfish, and while I could understand her motivations in some cases, often I was just irritated by her.

One thing I wanted from this book was to get some insight into Sidney’s trauma (which ITV introduced in series 1 and subsequently brushed under the carpet). And I guess I got that? In a way? But at the same time I kind of wanted it to go a little more in depth than it did. It felt kind of superficial almost. You have all of what happens to Sidney in the war, then he comes back to London, and he doesn’t seem particularly affected by what happened. Restless and discontent, maybe, but when you find out at the end what his real conflict is, it feels almost like it’s sprung out of nowhere. And there could have been such good angst there, but I didn’t really feel enough of an emotional connection to it.

A final thing: I didn’t quite get why everyone thought Sidney entering the clergy was such a big deal. They were pretty much all horrified, and gave some response along the lines of either “are you sure” or “that’s not like you”. But is entering the clergy really a huge deal? Especially the dominant religion clergy. So, yeah, I was confused.

But, obviously, all the things I didn’t really like about this book were personal ones. It is a good book. It’s well-written, and it has compelling characters. Ultimately, though, I just needed something more.
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Road to Grantchester

I have a confession to make, that I’m sure will resonate with many other readers. I have a reading pile: a set of books that I have bought but not yet read. Some of those books have been there for over 40 years, but I do intend to read them one day. In that pile are a few of James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers books. They looked very interesting; they were on special offer at the time….

When NetGalley offered me the opportunity to read and review Road to Grantchester, the book that explains why Sidney chose the Church. I thought “Wouldn’t it be sensible to read this one first and set the scene for the subsequent novels?” – so I did!

The style bemused me at first – it’s written in the present tense, so the first sentence is “They are in the Caledonian Club, dancing the quickstep…” The whole book uses the same tense. I’ve glanced at a couple of the later books and they are conventionally written is the past tense. That was a comment, not a criticism, and I think it adds to the immediacy of the narrative, where there’s a war on and the future is uncertain.

The book covers Sydney’s war – spent on the front-line in Italy – and the five years after that. There is only one mystery requiring Sydney’s deductive skills and that only covers an evening. The novel is about Sydney’s wartime experiences and his decision whether to enter the Church or not. Sydney has a close circle of friends: Robert, Freddie and Amanda. The close bonds of those friendships are exposed and tested, in some cases severely. One can see how each character (including Sydney) really irritates the others (and the reader) at times.

A lot of research has gone into this book with a page of references at the end. I’m not sure it was all necessary. Sydney wants to be sure he’s making the right decision, but I didn’t feel engaged in that decision-making and I think part of that is due to the present tense: one feels like an observer of events happening in real-time and thus an uninvolved third-party, rather than knowing what has happened and feeling omniscient. My lack of engagement meant that I felt the narrative dragged – a lot of pages but not a lot of narrative progression.

I’m mildly glad I read the book but I can’t put it stronger than that – sorry.

#TheRoadToGrantchester #NetGalley
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I started this full of hope and wanting to find out how eighteen-year-old Sidney Chambers found his calling.  Unfortunately for me it was full of war and gore.  I'm not a lover  of war stories so gave up about 50% of the way in as I was getting slowly more and more depressed/bored in turn.  It may be something to do with being an avid watcher of the TV series so although I didn't enjoy it, it doesn't mean other won't.  So sorry, not for me!
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This is the prequel of the stories of Sidney Chambers as vicar at Grantchester.  We see him move from carefree days as a young man enjoying his freedom to the battlefields of Europe in the war, where he fights alongside his friends in dire battles for survival.  He comes home tormented and is lost in the world that he returns to.  This is a great read for anyone who has already read, or seen, the Grantchester stories.  The character of Sidney is utterly believable as the younger man, who dovetails expertly with the older man we already know.   The book is beautifully written and totally evokes the times.
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I love the Grantchester series and the character of Sidney Chambers so I was very happy to receive an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher .This is a prequel to the series,beginning with Sidney's time fighting in Italy and it goes along way to explaining events which led to him finding his vocation as a priest.
It's different in some ways from the rest of the books ,but some of the familiar characters are there,and it explains a lot about Sidney's relationship with Amanda,which features so prominently in later books.There is a nod to Sidney's later talent for investigating crimes,but just that- the book is more setting the scene for the rest of the series.
There are some extremely moving passages describing Sidney's wartime experiences ,and the author does not spare us from the horrors of war .The character of Sidney is very well drawn and  sympathetically portrayed,with all his strengths and weaknesses.He comes across as entirely human but sure of his faith,which is such an important part of his character.
I loved it and would highly recommend it to all fans of the Grantchester series.
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having enjoyed the series on television, I was keen to see what the books were like - and I'm glad I did - in fact, the characters are more fleshed out (naturally) and there is a greater density to the world they live in, during that time, that is hard to get over entirely on the television - consequences at home for Geordie for example are more deeply spelled out. it is altogether more atmospheric and deeper - but this has to do with the medium = I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and will go looking for earlier ones ... really entertaining and with contemporary event, and ideas to boot!
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As a fan of the TV series ‘Grantchester’ I jumped at the chance to read this prequel depicting the early life of the much loved Sidney Chambers. Sadly it did not quite live up to my expectations. Whilst enjoyable enough, for me there was not enough depth to the story and the first part about Sidney’s WW2 experiences went on just that little bit too long.

That being said there was still a lot to like about this book. It was interesting to read about Sidney’s early life, friendships and the journey he went on to become the vicar of Grantchester. 

A good but not great read. 3 stars.
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Have you ever read a book, part of a series, which changed your attitude to the other books? Sadly, this happened to me with The Road to Grantchester. I have liked all the Sidney Chambers books and have probably given them five- star reviews. This prequel to the Grantchester novels is in two parts. The first deals with Sidney’s war experiences in Italy and is very good (also a useful corrective for anyone who still thinks that the fighting in the First World War was uniquely horrible). The second part deals with Sidney finding faith and resolving to enter the church. Some friends are supportive but Amanda seems to see his conversion as a betrayal and a change of personality. It’s written in the present tense, which is irritating to me; I also thought it less well written than the other books. The big problem, though, is that by the end of this book I liked Sidney less than I had before, which was surely not the author’s intention. I read this thanks to NetGalley. It will be published on 21st March.
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This was a really enjoyable read. The descriptions of Sydney's experiences as a soldier in WW2 Italy are graphic and must have been a brutal shock to a young man who, until then, had seen little of the world and knew even less about it. The combat pastor who Sydney befriends has, I think, a great deal to with him finding his way to a vocation as a clergyman after the war. I was surprised at his family and friends less than enthusiastic reaction to Sydney's decision to join the priesthood of the Anglican Church and couldn't really figure out why. Its a great period piece and gives an insight into life in both Britain and Europe during and just after the war years.
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Interesting to read about Sidney's war and what influenced him to become a vicar. All the usual loved and known  characters are introduced to us at the end. The only down side was it was a bit too long on the war and Rupert but a good read.
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I should firstly say that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed all the previous Sidney Chambers novels of James Runcie, so I was fascinated to read about his previous life.his war service and how he came to be a clergyman. The first part of the book gives a vivid portrayal of his service with the Scots Guards in Italy,fighting the Germans  and the harsh elements the exhaustion the loss of friends in particular a childhood friend and brother of Amanda who many who have watched the tv adaptation or read previous books will know .

How the horrors of war lead Sidney to become a vicar takes up the second part of the book up till the time he becomes the vicar of Grantchester,Some may find this part of the book heavy going dwelling as it must do on the nature of Sidneys' relationship with God and how it impacts  on his family and friends.

I found the book a really interesting read and there is even an incident which points to Sidneys investigative powers and his future helping out 'Geordie' in his police investigations.Recommended to all who like the Grantchester mysteries,
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Having read several of the Grantchester books, I was excited to learn about Sidney’s early life, and the Road to Grantchester did not disappoint. From the beginnings of his relationship with Amanda Kendall, through the horrors of his war experience with her brother Robert, to his decision to join the church, James Runcie’s tale flows along at a good pace throughout. Being a prequel, the ending was already known, but it was fascinating to see how Sidney became the man he is in the Grantchester series.

The attention to detail was maintained during the whole story, especially in the description of the battle of Monte Cassino and the traumas faced by the soldiers involved. 

A book that’s easy to read and one you won’t want to put down,
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I love it. It’s a wonderful book. Serious yet human story of war in Italy which leads to Sidney Chambers call to the church. Very real stories of college life, army life, family and friends. Situations set up well and convincing. I enjoyed the writing style very much. Interesting and thoughtful about religion, faith and the Bible. No emotional manipulation.. I wanted to know what happens next. Good ending and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
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An interesting story that fills in background to the television series. I know have a more interesting understanding of how Sidney “ticks”. Recommended to those interested in the show.
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"He will learn and love and care and dwell in mystery recognising that the greatest happiness often comes from outside ourselves, that life needs to be spiritual as well as physical and that the transcendent, in whatever form it is embraced, can redeem the everyday."

For those of you who remember the UK ITV series of Granchester, you'll be perfectly familiar with the Reverend Sidney Chambers, vicar and amateur detective. Here James Runcie takes us back to Sidney's service during WWII and the growing recognition of the faith that eventually leads to his becoming the vicar of Granchester. The first part of the novel is a relentless portrayal of Sidney's time with the Scots Guard in Italy facing escalating losses and desperation. Friendship, the battalion's padre and a brief period of recuperation in an Italian monastery provide the only respite from the march forwards across Europe. Returning from the war a very different man, Sidney seeks solace and meaning in his faith as he struggles to find his place in post-war England. Sidney's evolution is gently charted throughout this novel that deals with significant themes of grief, loss, meaning and faith. The author's familiarity with the very British institutions of the Anglican Church and Cambridge University, add a warmth and depth to the story that made it a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking read. 

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my ARC.
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This is an enjoyable prequel to the Grantchester novels, developing the backstory of tormented vicar, Sidney Chambers. The novel mainly focuses on Sidney’s traumatic experiences on the frontline during the Second World War. The reader is provided with an insight into Sidney’s mindset and how key events lead him to his eventual vocation as a priest. As a fan of the TV series it is difficult to be objective about the extent to which this influenced my enjoyment of the book and learning more about character with which I am already familiar. However, I think that even if I had read this as a stand-alone novel, I would have found the visceral images of wartime Europe to be credible and moving.
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Excellent book with a good storyline and wonderful characterisation. 
I enjoyed the TV series and was intrigued enough to read the prequel to the Grantchester series.
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This book took awhile to get into, but even then it was rather slow - although I found the writing style very readable - it was just that it took a long time to get to the point. Just as the beginning episodes on TV, the narrative grows with time and development of the storyline.
It is a good book to give some background  to the series, well written, with a different style of writing then is common today - of fast a furious - it gives a feeling of the era
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I am a fan of the Grantchester novels. I have read all six and enjoy the thoughtful, non-judgemental way that Sidney explains his moral stance and his faith. I understand that a prequel - explaining Sidney's background in family and school, his friendships from childhood, and his war experience - could be valuable in illustrating Sidney's social and spiritual progression, but this book is not yet ready to hit the shelves.
The initial scene setting is thinly sketched and the relationships between the characters are unclear. Amanda's brother, Robert, emerges as a key presence in Sidney and Amanda's lives, yet he is not mentioned in the following books. Much of this book is written in reflective direct speech, which induces torpor, and I admit to skipping the final five chapters as a quick skim had revealed only more of the same.
The key point of the book, that Sidney realised a vocation to the priesthood, lacks any defining moments.
The idea of the book is good, but it needs far more work.
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Whilst having not read the series and only having watched the tv series I found this a fantastic debut to the Grantchester world so very Well described. Would love to read from from jordys perspective as well!
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