Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: April 21
Genre: young adult, historical fiction
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?
Gretchen and Daniel managed to escape Germany and start new lives in Oxford. She lives with the Whitestones, the family of the doctor who helped her discover Reinhardt and Hitler’s psychological similarities, and attends school and dreams of going to university. Daniel, however, lives a bit unhappily working as a reporter for a society paper. Their newly constructed identities are shattered when Daniel receives a telegram about his family back in Germany. While he’s there, Gretchen hears on the wireless that Daniel’s wanted for murder in Berlin. Knowing he’s trapped, Gretchen races back to Germany to find Daniel, clear his name, and flee before Hitler discovers she’s back. Clearing Daniel’s name takes longer than Gretchen anticipated, and Hitler is days away from finding her. The Reichstag fire is tied to Daniel, and it takes working with mob rings to bring down Hitler and escape unscathed.
If you haven’t read Prisoner of Night and Fog yet, do so now. This is a duology, very intense and historically revealing.
While Prisoner exposes the reader to the Nazi state of mind (which is a complete mind-bender of its own, almost like experiencing Stockholm Syndrome) and reveals the psychological aspects of Hitler’s character, Conspiracy exposes the reader to historical events and conspiracies that lead up to Hitler’s dictatorship and WWII. First of all, mob rings? Who knew?! Right — they’re not really mobsters or gangsters, they have a strict code of honor and no-violence policy — but these underground clubs were targeted by Hitler. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The messy links between politics, money, and business work in Gretchen and Daniel’s favor, and Gretchen needs to use what she’s learned about psychology from Dr. Whitestone and what she knows about Hitler in order to stay one step ahead and make it out of Germany (again) alive.
Gretchen and Daniel run into family and friends — or, in Gretchen’s case, old friends that are now dangerous enemies — and the reaction to their relationship is across the board. Hitler’s propaganda is rooting, and National Socialists (Nazis) are even more dangerous and impulsive while everyone else is either headstrong and determined to fight against it (and eventually die for it) or frightened (so they follow the crowd to blend in, or are so scared they’re blocking it out and pretending it’s not happening). Germany is not a good place, and any one of their friends or foes could turn them in at any time. It’s heart racing, blood pounding, breathless fear from beginning to end. I don’t know how anyone could have lived like that on a daily basis for years on end.
Because of the tension and the world crumbling to pieces, Gretchen and Daniel try to reconcile their feelings for one another with the reality of their situation. It’s very likely they’ll die at any time, so why discuss the future? Or, if they make it out alive, how can they discuss their future when Gretchen was happy in England and Daniel wasn’t? They’re both young with full lives ahead of them (hopefully), so they’re concerned their love for one another is just emotion without reason. I should note their relationship is not the forefront of the story — it’s not like they sit around and twiddle their thumbs and discuss whether or not to stay together — but their confusion mixed with their without-question race to defend and save one another feels deep and genuine. It’s unconditional. It doesn’t matter what happens after this is over, because here and now they’re fighting for one another, for the other’s safety, for freedom, to expose Hitler and his evil plans. Instinct kicks in, and that’s what drives the story. Again, I don’t know how anyone could have lived like that.
I’m curious about 1930s Europe now. I want to learn more about pre-WWII Germany. I want to see the chain of events domino from WWI on. It’s dark and fascinating and not really explored in classrooms or in literature. Blankman is a phenomenal writer who gives us such unique perspectives on history. She deserves awards. All of them.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Balzer + Bray for review!