Prisoner of Night and Fog (book one)
By Anne Blankman
Expected publication April 22, 2014 by Balzer + Bray
Gretchen has grown up under the affectionate gaze of her Uncle Dolf, but, as she grows older, things begin to change. You see, Uncle Dolf is Adolf Hitler and he is steadily gaining power and prominence. Gretchen has always believed what he's told her, but when she meets a young Jewish reporter with questions about her father's death, she's not sure what to think anymore. Will Gretchen continue to be Dolf's beloved niece or will she search out the truth, no matter the cost?
As I've said before, I'm a big historical fiction fan. I'm also a big fan of taking well-known characters or historical figures and looking at them in a different light. So, when I spotted this e-galley, it was a no-brainer download for me. I was really intrigued by the notion of Hitler's niece and how a young person who has grown up in his shadow would view his rise to power.
Unfortunately, this book was a big old mixed bag for me. While it certainly was interesting reading about Gretchen and her opinion of Uncle Dolf (who, it should be noted, is not technically her uncle, but a family friend), other parts of the story felt too convenient or unbelievable for me. Actually, I found Gretchen's brother Reinhard to be maybe the most interesting character, and Gretchen certainly had plenty to deal with when it came to him. This book takes place in the early 1930s, so Hitler has not yet risen to the top of the political power; however, he is well on his way. Gretchen has grown up admiring him and believing what he's told her about Jewish people. The book focuses on what happens when Gretchen actually meets a Jewish person for herself. I had a little difficulty believing that Gretchen would so easily let her long-held beliefs about Jews go after a few interactions. Yes, Blankman does note her internal struggle with it, but the struggle feels false to me.
Similarly, Blankman does a fine job setting the tone and atmosphere of the novel - 1930s Germany is not a place I would have liked to have been. However, a lot of the information Blankman provides about Hitler's comrades and members of the National Socialist Party feels info-dumpy. A lot of it feels like a reading of facts about Party members, without a lot of characterization of them. In fact, I had a difficult time distinguishing between them all. Additionally, the romance felt too convenient for me. From the beginning, it was clear that Gretchen was going to fall in love with a Jewish man, and it never felt authentically developed to me.
The mystery of Gretchen's father's death seemed believable enough and gave the book the push to move forward, though, as I said, I was more interested in Gretchen's solving the mystery of her brother. I was disappointed upon reading the author's note to discover that this is going to be a series. While there is obviously plenty of fodder for more books about Gretchen and her relationship with Hitler (he hasn't even been elected Chancellor yet), I liked the ambiguous ending of this book. I will come back for book two because I'm interested to see how Blankman will handle the increasing bleakness of historical events, but I'll be back with some hesitations.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.