Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog
Author: Anne Blankman
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Genre: Historical fiction
2 StarsAfter thinking over Prisoner of Night and Fog for a bit, I think 2 stars is a far more fitting rating for this book.
I think it's fairly obvious that I tend to gravitate towards historical fiction novels, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I was lured in by the synopsis of this book. (Yes, it's been sitting on my bookshelf since I bought it two years ago, but my point still stands.) I should also make it clear that I am quite critical of historical fiction books, mainly because I have very high standards when it comes to this genre and have absolutely no patience for tropes, undeveloped characters, or run-of-the-mill romances--and guess what! Prisoner of Night and Fog had all of the above, and then some. It helped me discover that I really am a snob when it comes to this genre
First off: kudos to the author for even attempting to write a novel set during WWII that neither antagonizes nor demonizes Hitler; in fact, it portrays him as a fatherly figure, which had to have been a difficult feat for anyone. Moreover, Gretchen, our main character, was in the inner circles of the Nazi party, and it was interesting to get a somewhat intimate look into the party. Blankman's characterization of Hitler was pretty believable and realistic--you can tell that the author knew her stuff when it came to painting his personality.
I'm afraid that that's about where my praise for the book ends. There are several glaring problems within this book, one of which is the lack of characterization of anyone aside from Hitler. Gretchen was so unnervingly undeveloped that I honestly don't even know what to say about her. She had no personality whatsoever, and maybe my memory is failing me but there wasn't much said about her hobbies, her likes, her dislikes, anything to give me some hint of who Gretchen is. She was as bland as stale bread and she's probably one of the most uninteresting characters I've read of, and I've come across some pretty damn boring characters. I truly would have rather had a developed, annoying protagonist than an undeveloped one like Gretchen.
Moving on to the main love interest, Daniel. I have to admit that he was far more intriguing that Gretchen, but to be fair I would have found a fly more intriguing than her. I found their romance unnecessary at best, but at the same time, I've read of far worse romances, especially in historical fiction, so I'm glad that that wasn't a main part of the plot. Speaking of, the plot was terrible. Like Gretchen, it was extremely bland and not very entertaining. I wasn't very invested in the mystery behind Gretchen's father's death, so I think that contributed to my overall disinterest in the plotline.
Most reviews I've read rave about the deep research that went into Prisoner of Night and Fog, but aside from the portrayal of Hitler, I don't think that the author did a good job of integrating history into this book. At some points it felt as if I was reading excerpts from a textbook, and that is definitely not a good presentation of historical info. Anyone can do some research and throw it into a book; the key is to weave it into your story-line in a way that would neither bog down your readers nor distance them from the main plot. Blankman's uninspired writing left a lot to be desired, resulting in a poorly written attempt at a clever, unconventional novel.
The amount of potential this book had is saddening, and if put in more capable hands, I believe that this would have been a stellar novel, perhaps even a favorite. If you really want a good, emotionally-investing book about World War II, you're better off reading Code Name Verity or The Book Thief.