Review: The Keep (The Adversary Cycle #1) ~ F. Paul Wilson

The Keep“Something is murdering my men.”

Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims.

When an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find something that’s both powerful and terrifying. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore–who just happens to be Jewish–to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way–a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny.

The battle has begun: On one side, the ultimate evil created by man, and on the other…the unthinkable, unstoppable, unknowing terror that man has inevitably awakened.

4 Thumbs-UpThis is an unusual book for three reasons; it is the first book in The Adversary Cycle, which is also part of a bigger series of books by this Author called The Secret History of the World, it is also a very good standalone read if you don’t want to find yourself tied to yet another collection.

As much I loved this book I did feel that so much more could have been done with the character development of, what I feel were the three major players in this book.  However, having said that, it could easily be argued that there are no main protagonists in this read at all as there are so many characters that are woven into this novels pages, and they are written in such a manner that they interact with each other flawlessly.  From a standalone read viewpoint this lack of development may mar some readers enjoyment of the book and leave it lacking in their opinion, but for me I didn’t mind at all and it made me wonder if, as part of not one but two series, if these characters would be revisited and explained a little more in-depth.  I wanted to know more about the mysterious red-haired man, and why the female protagonist dressed the way she did, but I didn’t find it in the pages of this instalment.  The ‘evil’ in the novel is well written, both the seen and unseen coming off the page and hitting the reader right between the eyes, and at times making it even harder to put this book down.

Despite the lack of character development, this is really a gripping and page turning read.  The Author skilfully depicts the location filling each page with menace and dread to the point where the reader begins to feel a chill in the bones.  It is not the usual run of the mill horror/supernatural story, and the only thing that sparkles in this book is the reflection of the sun off the river.  As the storyline progresses the Author makes the reader feel as if they know the kind of evil that the characters are dealing with, even throwing in some references to bygone images of the vampire; but are we really reading about a vampire, or is it just an impression the reader is given because it is easier for them to visualise this kind of creature?

My real complaint about this book was that midway through all the gore and violence, the Author suddenly decided to throw into the mix an unnecessary, in my opinion, sexual liaison between two of the characters.  Although it didn’t take anything away from the book, it certainly didn’t add any new dimension or understanding to it either, and it made me feel as if the Author had reached some kind of block, and needed something to squeeze into this space until their creative juices started flowing again.  The relationship could have been expressed in a lot more subtle and tension ladened way, given the circumstances and time the novel was set in, with no real need to resort to the easy out of ‘let’s throw them between the sheets’.  I really enjoyed the thought-provoking pages when the ‘cross’ is discussed as it made me think more about the power we let objects have over us, and I do enjoy books that make me think.

If you are looking for sparkly vampires, fluffy werewolves and a neat and tidy stake through the heart ending to make you feel good, this novel is not for you at all.  However if you enjoy reading something that makes you think outside the box, and will keep you captivated well beyond bedtime, pick this up and give it a read.  I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of the non-fluffy horror and supernatural genre, and I will most definitely be reading more by this Author.


Review: Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields ~ Wendy Lower

Hitler's FuriesHitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post-World War I Germany, and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement-a twisted political awakening that turned to genocide. These young women-nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses-saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: that they went on “shopping sprees” for Jewish-owned goods and also brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; that they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shooting. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

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This book has taken me a tremendously long amount of time to finish; not because it is badly written or long-winded, but because it overwhelms the reader’s emotions to such a point that you need to put it down and walk away.  This book is definitely not for the faint of heart, and can only be digested in small, not so easily swallowed mouthfuls.

In writing this book the Author pulls on her twenty years experience as an archival researcher and also things she learnt whilst out doing field work; it shows in the way the book is put together that she felt this was a part of history that needed to be told, warts and all, and covers a part of Nazi Germany that has remained untold.

Through a series of detailed biographies, the Author introduces the reader to each of the “Furies” in the title; we see their simple and ordinary backgrounds, which are all relatively diverse, but all had one reason to go to the Eastern front and this was also simple; money, duty to the Reich, keeping the family together and social or political connections.  Once there, however, their stories take on lives of their own and, in some cases these are very chilling and hard to comprehend in today’s society.  These women came from areas of their society as diverse as nurses, secretaries and teachers, but each of the women mentioned in this book all had one thing in common, they became a part of the “Final Solution”.

The Author carefully and skilfully separates the women in the book according to their level of participation in these events, whether it is as witnesses to events, indifference at what was happening or, as the reader finds in some cases, just acceptance. By direct or indirect participation, these women could, by no means, be all ‘lumped together’, as each had their own motivations for doing what they did, as chilling as they may have been.  Also brought to light is the fact that while many of their male counterparts were the subject of aggressive manhunts that spanned the globe, these women were left untouched and allowed to escape any accountability for their actions by claiming ignorance.  I’m not sure if they could be said to have gone on to lead ‘normal’ lives, but the latter part of this provocative and highly emotional read looks into theories that try to explain their participation in such atrocities.  The banality of evil was a phrase that came to mind every time I picked up this book and read a little more of their actions.  After reading this book, I felt that I am going to need some time away from my much-loved books, both fiction and non-fiction, that cover this period of our history it affected me so much.

I would cautiously recommend this book to all that are interested in this period of history, but if you are going to read it you need to be aware it will move you in ways you never imagined.


Review: Those Who Save Us ~ Jenna Blum

Those who save usFor fifty years, Anna Schlemmer has refused to talk about her life in Germany during World War II. Her daughter, Trudy, was only three when she and her mother were liberated by an American soldier and went to live with him in Minnesota. Trudy’s sole evidence of the past is an old photograph: a family portrait showing Anna, Trudy, and a Nazi officer, the Obersturmfuhrer of Buchenwald.

Driven by the guilt of her heritage, Trudy, now a professor of German history, begins investigating the past and finally unearths the dramatic and heartbreaking truth of her mother’s life.

Combining a passionate, doomed love story, a vivid evocation of life during the war, and a poignant mother/daughter drama, Those Who Save Us is a profound exploration of what we endure to survive and the legacy of shame.

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At no point, in my opinion, would I call this book a love story.  This is a book about perception, assumption and guilt; the kind of guilt that seals the lips, sections off the mind and sours everything that comes within its grasp.  It is also a book about heroism, not the kind we are normally subject to, but the kind of heroes that do not realise, at the time, that this is how they appear to those they help.  Secrets abound in the pages of this book, some of which we only discover the true nature of by reading, as the person holding the secret will take it with them to their grave.

Due to the subject matter of the storyline, which is filled with brutality, questionable morality and some harrowing passages, it is not one that should be read by the sensitive or easily offended reader.  If you are wanting to discover a different perspective of World War II, from the German home front point of view, this is a must read.

The main protagonists in this novel are Mother and Daughter, and their stories take place in war-torn Germany and also in 1990 Minnesota, and it is written from both points of view.  One would expect great character depth and development from a novel involving closely related people, who are also the main protagonists, but as secrets are part of this novel, so they are ingrained into our two main characters.  Such secrecy is an integral part of the character development in this book, it keeps the reader from really finding out anything too deeply about either woman, other than their day-to-day struggles, and the shame they feel about things they have done in the past, or assume to be part of their heritage.  The cast of characters, both during the war era parts of the novel and also the US side of the novel, are painted with a keen pen that reveals all their prejudices and preconceptions as to how a race behaves.  For me, I was more stunned at the reaction of the American civilians to the German woman than I was of the German reaction to the Jews; this reaction is in part, I feel, due to the multitude of books that are available on the subject of the Holocaust (and rightly so), and very few outlining the feelings of those communities these German war brides encountered on their coming to the US.

The bulk of this novel is set in a small town outside which lies a concentration camp.  The description of the town before, during and after the war, as well as that of the camp and all that lies within its fences, are the result of obvious and deep research on the part of the Author.  Many of the things described in this novels pages are written as fact in the annals of history, and this further lends to the book as it shows the amount of research that has gone into making this novel what it is.  In the Authors description of the brutality of both the camp, and the actions of those who work there to the neighbouring townsfolk, we can see that for many that were faced with these wartime situations and the struggle of staying alive, capitulation was the often the easiest and safest route to take for those with a choice.  I am not condoning what happened to millions of Jews during this time, and having been to the Holocaust Museum in Berlin which outlines the immensity of this in chilling detail I never would, but this novel adds another dimension to this time period I had not really looked too closely at before.

Yes, the book does bounce back and forwards between two different time periods, but this just allows deep insights into both character’s lives, how they have been shaped by the atrocities of war and the Holocaust, the will to survive and the guilt that comes with remembering, and how all this affects their relationship.  It is definitely an emotionally draining book, not one of your curl-up with a good book, feel good novels, as it does recount in graphic detail many horrific events and atrocities against Jews and Gentiles alike.  The book is a tense read, and also parts of it are incredibly sad but the Author never allows it to become too depressing by preventing the reader from dwelling  on the horrors of the past, by balancing it with a message of promised hope for the future.

The only thing I found a little disconcerting about the way the novel was written was the lack of speech marks.  This made it a problematic at times to discern whether the character was actually talking or thinking.  However, this was the first novel I had read that was written in this way, and it really did not detract from the storyline or my enjoyment of the novel in any way.  Once read, this is a novel that will stay with the reader a long time.

I would recommend this novel to anyone that has an interest in World War II, whether from an Allied or Third Reich point of view.  Due to the images within its pages, I would not feel comfortable with anyone under a college age reading level picking this up, and also those of a sensitive nature may also find it harrowing.