Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Review: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog (Prisoner of Night and Fog #1)
Author: Anne Blankman
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Pages: 401
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In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her "uncle" Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf's, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet.

Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command.

Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can't stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can't help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she's been taught to believe about Jews.

As Gretchen investigates the very people she's always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed?

From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she's ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

I decided to read Prisoner of Night and fog hot on the heels of Salt to the Sea, oddly wanting more of the World War II historical fiction I'd gotten a taste of. This is really strange behavior for me considering I usually stick to fantasy and dystopia, but I was intrigued by this book about Adolf Hitler's "niece." Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about this time period, but I do love stories about people who learn the horrible truth about those they love. Luckily, I was not disappointed!

Gretchen is a young girl whose family has become very, very close to Adolf Hitler following her father's death. She has always been treated as his beloved niece, shielded from the horrors of the Germany that is slowly unraveling around her amidst Hitler's rise to power. Gretchen only sees the best parts of her Uncle Dolf and has been fed sugar-coated versions of his plans regarding the "relocation" of the Jews. Despite Gretchen's naivety, I loved her character. Once the truth begins to reveal itself, Gretchen goes after it instead of hiding behind her wall of ignorance as so many would do in her place. Gretchen is strong in face of adversity, even going against her own family in pursuit of the truth and I thought she was amazing for it!

This is YA historical fiction so there is obviously romance, but I found myself totally invested in it even though I didn't fully understand it at times. Daniel is a Jewish reporter who is looking into the death of Gretchen's father and ignites her passion for learning the truth. I didn't really get exactly why Daniel was interested in Gretchen's father's death, but I was honestly willing to overlook it because the bigger story was fantastic. Although Gretchen hates Daniel at first (what other choice does she have based on her upbringing, really?), she comes to understand that he is just a person like her - the first chink in her armor. I loved the relationship between Gretchen and Daniel and the mutual respect that they held for each other.

The villains in Prisoner of Night and Fog were despicable. Not only was Hitler the obvious bad guy here, but Gretchen's brother was also pretty terrifying. It was strange to see Hitler from the eyes of someone who loved him, but it was extremely interesting to watch his character devolve as Gretchen learned more and more about the man underneath the facade. I truly felt for her as her world crumbled.

Speaking of Gretchen's world, the world building in this book was fantastic! I've said before that I really don't have much knowledge about this period in history (my historical interests are thousands of years earlier), but Anne Blankman did an incredible job of placing me right in the middle of 1930s Germany. I also enjoyed how the setting seemed to get darker and bleaker as Gretchen discovered more about Uncle Dolf. This is something that I've often seen done in films, but I feel like it is much more difficult to achieve on paper.

The story itself - Gretchen discovering the truth about Hitler and her father's death, while realizing that the Jews were not villains - was interesting, if slow at times. It took awhile for the plot to really pick up, but throughout the second half of the book I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what Gretchen would find out next and whether she and Daniel would be safe in the end. There was a lot of information and a lot of names thrown at me at times and there were terms I was unfamiliar with. I feel like a glossary may have helped this book a bit for the uncultured Americans like myself.

Overall I really enjoyed Prisoner of Night and Fog! Sure, it had flaws. I felt like the way Gretchen and Daniel came together was a bit unbelievable, I was confused by some terminology, and it had a bit of a slow start. The good far outweighs the bad here though! Seeing Hitler's early years unfold from the viewpoint of someone who is essentially family was fascinating and the forbidden romance was fantastic! I definitely recommend this to those interested in WWII historical fiction and fans of Salt to the Sea!