Published April 21st 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Hardcover, 416 pages
Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss
The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.
But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.
Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?
I really enjoyed Blankman’s first book, Prisoner of Night and Fog which was published last year. In the first book we meet Gretchen Cohen, who grew up under the influence of her “Uncle Dolf,” a rising star in the National Socialist Party in Germany. Gretchen lost her father as a child when he heroically took a bullet for his dear friend Hitler. At least that is what Gretchen grew up believing. Then she meets Daniel Cohen, a young Jewish reporter who tells her a very different story. I won’t recount the whole plot Of Prisoner of Night and Fog for you but beware of spoilers ahead!
In Book One, Gretchen finds out from Daniel that her father is not the martyr portrayed, but that Hitler himself murdered him. Gretchen was a character that grew so much! She was basically raised on Hitler’s platform of hate and had to completely reframe her view of the world. She learns hard truths about her whole family in Book #1 and basically her world view is completely rearranged. This book gave me the chills as I really don’t ever think of Hitler as a real person with relationships. While I enjoyed Prisoner of Night and Fog as an adult, I think young adult readers, as intended will really love this book, with it’s great characters and fast and tense plot – with historical accuracy as an added bonus.
In A Conspiracy of Blood & Shadows we find Gretchen and Daniel now living in Oxford, England. Gretchen has a new happiness that she’s never had with a loving adoptive family. Daniel watches the news from Germany anxiously and is trying to find any politician willing to listen about the menace rising with the Nazi party. When word reaches Daniel that a family member has been assaulted and is close to death, he feels he must sneak back into Munich to find out what happened. Gretchen next receives a telegram stating Daniel has been accused of murder in Berlin and she follows him back to Germany.
Knowing what we all know about the history of Germany in the 1930’s I wanted to shake the book and tell Daniel to stop. The best part about A Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke was the look at the world right before Hitler seizes total power*. Churchill is referred to as washed-up and while Germany is poor and her citizens restless, there is no outright hate campaign yet. This series gives a very different look at Germany under Hitler than you get from the average book about World War II.
While I liked the book, I would say the plot itself is not as strong as Prisoner of Night and Fog. The search into why Daniel would be framed for murder is tense within the context of the burning of the Reichstag fire in Berlin and the merging of the police forces with Hitler’s SA; however the action surrounding Daniel and Gretchen themselves just isn’t as exciting. Perhaps it is because we know that their actions can’t change history and no matter how determined the character is in the book Hitler’s path is set. This was still completely worth a read if you enjoyed Prisoner of Night and Fog. Daniel and Gretchen are great together and develop further as they get deeper into the mystery. Again, this is a series I would have loved as a teenager.
* For this, Holly also recommends In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson.
Thank you to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.