Judging by the review copies that have been landing on my doormat recently, spy stories and wartime novels seem to be hugely popular at the moment. I've recently reviewed Dave Boling's The Undesirables which is set in the concentration camps of the Boer War (and which bring to mind the Nazi concentration camps of World War II), Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat, set in WWII occupied France, and Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, exposing Russian and American espionnage during the Cold War. Black Roses maintains this sinister, tense atmosphere of trusting nobody and being permanently in mortal danger, taking a look at life in Germany just before World War II when the Nazis were starting to throw their weight around and begin their reign of terror.
What is slightly unusual in this book is that the action focuses on the wives of the Nazi leaders, rather than the more well known men themselves. The pivotal character is Magda Goebbels, who actually has a more complex background and personal history than I ever would have guessed . They say that truth is stranger than fiction and surprisingly, the novel is based on extensive research into the Nazi wives' and girlfriends' real lives.
We also discover Clara Vine, a young English woman who wants to become an actress and who takes the brave step of moving to Berlin, rather than face her inevitable destiny of becoming a frustrated housewife if she stays at home in England. As she speaks perfect German, she soon finds herself ushered into the inner circle of Nazi wives, modelling for the newly created German women's fashion bureau and becoming their confidante. This is too good a chance to miss and the British intelligence agency soon try to recruit her as an informer. Clara finds herself in an incredibly dangerous situation that will test her acting skills to the limit and leave her questioning where her loyalties lie.
The novel gives some interesting insight into the situation of women in pre-war Germany, both within the Nazi wives' circle and for women in general, as they bore the brunt of restrictive new rules such as not being allowed to smoke or wear foreign fashion and having to focus on producing babies rather than having any sort of career. This was an aspect of the Nazi regime that I was unaware of.
Clara is an interesting character, although I did find her slightly too one-dimensional. I would have liked to discover more about her background and inner thoughts to understand what really makes her tick. At times, the book seemed to drag on, and think that this is because I didn't really care too much about Clara as a character. Getting deeper inside her psyche would have helped me empathise more with her. This is the first in a trilogy of books though, so we may well discover more about her in the sequels. I think this also explains why I found the ending (or rather lack of real ending) rather unsatisfying.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £7.99
- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (24 Oct 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1849839859
- ISBN-13: 978-1849839853
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book in order to write an honest review.
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