Published by Balzer + Bray Genres: Young Adult
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Sigh. Another well loved book that I just didn’t connect to the way I would have liked.
This book had GREAT potential, the premise was really intriguing and different from anything I’ve read before. Unfortunately, Prisoner of Night and Fog just did not work for me.
The novel takes place in Munich in the early 1930’s during Hitler’s rise to power. It’s told from the point of view of the seventeen-year-old German girl Gretchen Müller, who basically grew up in the NSDAP with Adolf Hitler – or “uncle Dolf” as she calls him – as her father figure. Gretchen is one of Hitler’s favorites because her father died saving his life during the Beer Hall Putsch a couple of years earlier. Real historical figures are introduced as well as fictional ones to create the main plot and mystery aspect of the novel.
Clearly, this has the possibility to be a wonderful story because not only do we have the fascinating historical setting – a time full of inner turmoil, political instability and economic crisis – but we also have so much potential for character development, as Gretchen slowly realizes the truth about Hitler and his party and starts questioning her own beliefs.
The novel had three strong points in its favor:
1) The realism. This book was very well researched and the author clearly had a good grasp of the time period. The story definitely felt very believable. Having said that though, I wouldn’t have been able to tell if there were historical inaccuracies because although I do have quite a lot of general knowledge, small details would easily have passed me by.
2) The way Hitler and his people were portrayed. The author really showed us Hitler’s psychopathic nature well and I was absolutely terrified of Reinhard. This is definitely a book with despicable (and frightening), complex villains.
3) Gretchen as the protagonist. Gretchen was far from one of my favorite female characters but I did quite like her and didn’t find her all too frustrating. I liked the fact that she wanted to be a doctor and go to university and didn’t let other people decide her life for her, like it was often custom for the women of the time. She was brave and definitely came into her own throughout the novel.
Unfortunately, I really struggled with the other elements of the story.
My main issue was the way the novel was written. There was so much info-dumping and the author failed to interweave historical facts and events with the plot in an elegant manner. Most of the time I honestly felt like I was reading a history book or a Hitler biography. The novel just wasn’t engaging at all and I found myself bored for most of it, trying to remain focused on the main plot line. It seemed like an endless recounting of historical facts and figures instead of an actual establishment of atmosphere. It felt like the author was trying too hard to show me all of her extensive research but didn’t give enough care to character interactions.
The plot itself was quite weak. The mystery aspect was very predictable and there wasn’t enough of anything else for me to be engrossed. Many of the side characters started to blend together in my mind and at times I struggled to hold them apart. They were figures, not people.
Then there was the romance, which, frankly, I didn’t enjoy at all. I didn’t feel any connection or chemistry between the two main characters. Their romance seemed very stiff and completely out of place. I think the book would have benefited had the romance just been exchanged with a friendship.
I was also bothered by the female friendship. I thought Eva was portrayed in a very condescending manner and I hated that we were yet again confronted with the one-dimensional female best friend whose only purpose seemed to be the demonstration of how special Gretchen was in comparison.
There were also some mistakes in regards to the use of the German language (e.g. it’s “Münchner” not “Münchener” and “Heil Hitler” not “Heils Hitler” etc.) but that won’t bother the majority of the readers.
I understand why so many people love this book and are captured by the historical setting. If you are fascinated by this time period you may still really like Prisoner of Night and Fog, but I just didn’t enjoy it and can thus not recommend it. I won’t be picking up the sequel.