Gretchen Müller peered through the car’s rain-spotted windshield.
Prisoner of Night and Fog may be a debut novel for Anne Blankman but it is far from a naïve piece of work. Set in Munich, Blankman effortlessly intertwines the fictional tale of Gretchen Müller with the real historical events of 1930s Germany to portray Hitler’s rise to power and the effect his ambition had on those within his inner circle. The premise of the story allows readers insight not only into Hitler’s inner circle but also demonstrating how quickly and easily the corruption of the National Socialists affected the German people. In this novel, Blankman creates a compelling search for truth and enlightenment that leads to one girl finding more about her world than she is prepared to face.
From the first page, it is astounding how much research and effort Blankman has poured into creating not only a historically accurate piece of fiction but also a thrilling murder mystery. Gretchen is a brilliantly naïve lead character but she far from vacuous. Her strength develops as she begins to understand the precarious position her family are in and, as her relationship with a certain politically-wise reporter develops, she comes to realise the power that comes from clever misdirection.
The pace of the story, though wavers at times, is largely fast moving and becomes more and more compelling as secrets begin to unravel and the curtain of Hitler’s manipulation starts to fall. I must admit, I was worried that Blankman (through the eyes of Gretchen) would portray Hitler sympathetically but she strikes the right balance, hinting at the true motives behind his actions but demonstrating how effective he was at hiding them. It’s both fascinating and terrifying to consider how one person managed to manipulate and drive a whole country towards his personal sensibilities and Gretchen’s encounters with her Uncle Dolf are utterly gripping as you try to figure out what makes him tick.
In Prisoner of Night and Fog Blankman takes on a different perspective to other WWII-centric YA novels – she goes deep inside the lion’s den while it’s still just stirring. She gives a damning portrayal of how a carefully woven fabric of lies can blanket people’s perception and one loose thread can cause a girl to question everything and everyone around her. As the first part of a two-book set, Prisoner of Night and Fog is an ambitious yet captivating novel that successfully reimagines the uncertainty of 1930s Germany.
I received the sequel title, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke for review just before Christmas but had to read the opening story first! Watch this space for my follow-up review of Blackman’s second novel.