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.