The Happy Chip

Published Post author

The Happy Chip Book Cover The Happy Chip
Dennis Meredith
Sci-fi
Glyphus
March 10, 2017
Paperback
283

You feel ecstatic! Until you kill yourself.

The Happy Chip is the latest nanoengineering wonder from the high-flying tech company, NeoHappy, Inc.

Hundreds of millions of people have had the revolutionary chip injected into their bodies to monitor their hormonal happiness and guide them to life choices, from foods to sex partners.

Given the nanochip's stunning success, struggling science writer Brad Davis is thrilled when he is hired to co-author the biography of its inventor, billionaire tech genius Marty Fallon.

That is, until Davis learns that rogue company scientists are secretly testing horrifying new control chips with “side effects”—suicidal depression, uncontrollable lust, murderous rage, remote-controlled death, and ultimately, global subjugation.

His discovery threatens not only his life, but that of his wife Annie and their children. Only with the help of Russian master hacker Gregor Kalinsky and his gang can they hope to survive the perilous adventure that takes them from Boston to Beijing.

The Happy Chip, an edge-of-your-seat thriller, spins a cautionary tale of unchecked nanotechnology spawning insidious devices that could enslave us. It dramatically portrays how we must control our “nanofuture” before it’s too late.

 

The Happy Chip was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The premise of The Happy Chip is a not uncommon type of sci-fi story. New technology is introduced into society, seems great, then something goes horribly wrong. This is one of those sci-fi stories that seems like it could actually happen sometime in the near future. It is just enough of a stretch to be purely fictional, but still believable. Think more along the lines of Jurassic Park than Star Wars when viewing this book as sci-fi. That being said, it was a pretty good read.

First off we have the technology that fuels the story, the Happy Chips. These are injected into people’s bodies and, through a phone app, allow you to monitor your hormone levels. This lets you essentially measure your happiness to find more interesting hobbies, try foods you will probably like better, etc. And that is where it starts to go horribly wrong. With the 2.0 chips, the villain of our story plans not only to monitor hormones but to control them. While this premise is not too crazy, it shows how much power a person with leverage can wield over others.

So next we have our characters, starting with protagonist Brad Davis. He is a freelance writer hired to write the biography of the Happy Chips’ inventor, Marty Fallon. As he begins his research, he discovers the evil plot and his family is put in danger. Brad was almost too much of a good guy, as was his wife. At first they are fighting to protect themselves and their children but once we are past that they keep going. They do this because it is the right thing to do, but it feels like normal people in their situation would have said, “Ok, we’ve done enough,” by that point.

Then we have the villain of the story, who I will not expressly reveal for spoiler reasons. When first introduced, this character just seems like a jerk. Not necessarily a bad person but not a very nice one. That completely flips around once the threat is revealed and this person goes from “scumbag” to “irredeemably evil”. Politician-level evil, if you will. And then there is the “sidekick” Gregor Kalinsky. It almost felt like Gregor could have been the main character. Brad got the ball rolling on this adventure but Gregor was largely the person who got things done by the end of it.

Overall, The Happy Chip was a fun read. While the rating system only gives me whole numbers, I really think of this book as 3.5-stars. It is a good little summer read for folks who like a quick but entertaining sci-fi story.

August 20, 2017

Star Wars: Thrawn

Published Post author

Thrawn Book Cover Thrawn
Star Wars
Timothy Zahn
Sci-fi
Random House
April 6, 2017
Hardcover
427

In this definitive novel, readers will follow Thrawn’s rise to power—uncovering the events that created one of the most iconic villains in Star Wars history.

One of the most cunning and ruthless warriors in the history of the Galactic Empire, Grand Admiral Thrawn is also one of the most captivating characters in the Star Wars universe, from his introduction in bestselling author Timothy Zahn’s classic Heir to the Empire through his continuing adventures in Dark Force Rising, The Last Command, and beyond. But Thrawn’s origins and the story of his rise in the Imperial ranks have remained mysterious. Now, in Star Wars: Thrawn, Timothy Zahn chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy.

After Thrawn is rescued from exile by Imperial soldiers, his deadly ingenuity and keen tactical abilities swiftly capture the attention of Emperor Palpatine. And just as quickly, Thrawn proves to be as indispensable to the Empire as he is ambitious; as devoted as its most loyal servant, Darth Vader; and a brilliant warrior never to be underestimated. On missions to rout smugglers, snare spies, and defeat pirates, he triumphs time and again—even as his renegade methods infuriate superiors while inspiring ever greater admiration from the Empire. As one promotion follows another in his rapid ascension to greater power, he schools his trusted aide, Ensign Eli Vanto, in the arts of combat and leadership, and the secrets of claiming victory. But even though Thrawn dominates the battlefield, he has much to learn in the arena of politics, where ruthless administrator Arihnda Pryce holds the power to be a potent ally or a brutal enemy.

All these lessons will be put to the ultimate test when Thrawn rises to admiral and must pit all the knowledge, instincts, and battle forces at his command against an insurgent uprising that threatens not only innocent lives but also the Empire’s grip on the galaxy—and his own carefully laid plans for future ascendancy.

 

Note: This review will contain spoilers for the original Thrawn trilogy.

Thrawn (the character) is one of the biggest fan favorites in the history of Star Wars. Author Timothy Zahn’s original Thrawn trilogy is considered by many fans to be the pinnacle (and start) of the old canon Star Wars Expanded Universe. Prior to that trilogy, all the “extra” Star Wars materials took place around the time of the original films. Zahn put out a series that was 6 years later and added a lot of new material to the franchise. The Rebel Alliance was the New Republic, Han and Leia were married and about to have a baby, the Empire was all but defeated, and more.

On top of all that he introduced Thrawn, one of the greatest Star Wars villains. Thrawn is loved because of his military genius, making him one of the few non-Force users to be a threat. If you are 3 steps ahead of everyone else, Thrawn is 5 steps ahead of you. That characterization largely remains the same in this new novel. Zahn seems to have done the best he can to keep Thrawn the same in the new canon. Thrawn now pops up before the original trilogy instead of after, but his role remains the same (crush the Rebels).

This book did come out after season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, where Thrawn serves as the new main villain. He was not in every episode there so we only received some sparse exposure to him. However, it was enough to show that Thrawn is still Thrawn and this book greatly exemplifies upon that.

Thrawn (the book) deals with how Thrawn (the man) joined the Empire and rose through the ranks. This is not a simple journey, as the Empire is largely made of anti-alien people. In addition to simply being an entirely new culture, the deck is stacked against Thrawn from the beginning. But like other villain novels, such as Tarkin, we see how the rise to power comes about. Whereas Tarkin was primarily ruthless, Thrawn is able to maneuver individuals like chess pieces. He does not start out this way; in the beginning of this novel, his skills for politics fail in comparison to his military genius.

Along with Thrawn, the book also develops some other interesting characters such as Governor Pryce (a secondary antagonist in Star Wars Rebels). While there did seem to be some restrictions on Zahn simply because of how the New Canon is set up, longtime Star Wars fans will be happy to see that Thrawn is truly back.

August 13, 2017

Rise of Dawn

Published Post author

Rise of Dawn Book Cover Rise of Dawn
Justin Edward Friday
Fantasy
Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
March 11, 2016
Paperback
286

Ebren is a far off place where forces of light and dark, good and evil, oppression and freedom clash endlessly. In this unstable world of feudal disarray, a single young boy, branded as "Possum," will have to fight for his freedom against a relentless Beast Kin Empire. Accompanied by a broken immortal he will have to discover the courage and insight to question the boundaries of damned and divine, as new enemies and allies add themselves to this deadly game of risk, where the very fate of the world may very well rest at their feet. It's always darkest before the dawn.

 

Rise of Dawn was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Taking the story as a whole into account, Rise of Dawn reads like many other fantasy novels. You have a fantastical world with humans and various other species (in this case, animal people). There is magic and swordplay and a group of heroes. These heroes largely consist of your general fantasy tropes; the young hero, the old man, the honorable thief, etc. The issues that the story suffers come more from its construction than its material.

What sticks out the most is the extremely fast pace of the story. Fantasy books tend to be on the slower side, albeit not all of them need to be Tolkien-level slow. In Rise of Dawn the needle is in the red for practically the entire book. It felt like the content of this one book could have been stretched out across five. When the journey of the characters gets started in the beginning, it is just two people in the group. By the end that has expanded to over a half-dozen adventurers. Not to mention the small horde of villains readers will also be keeping up with. Characters are introduced so rapidly it was hard to keep everyone straight.

The influx of characters combined with the page length also made character development virtually non-existent. Three or four of the characters get focused on and developed, but the rest are static after their introduction. It feels odd for them to change so quickly, but it is not 100% clear how long the group was adventuring. We do not really see them trekking through the woods or walking down roads. They set out for a destination at the end of one chapter and are there once the next one starts. Even when they are sitting around, whole weeks or months just pass in between sequences.

Rise of Dawn’s other pressing matter was the need for a bit more editing. This may have just been an issue with the paperback copy I received, but I cannot say for sure. There are many parts in the book with missing quotation marks, no indication of who was talking when a group is present, punctuation errors, misspelled words, and more. It causes the book to read more like a draft or outline than a complete novel. Rise of Dawn’s story has potential, it just needs to be cleaned up and polished off.

August 6, 2017

Dunkirk

Published Post author

Poster for the movie "Dunkirk"

Dunkirk

The event that shaped our world

20171 h 47 min

Dunkirk is not a typical war movie. Audiences going in expecting in to follow the format of a typical war movie will be disappointed. By no means does mean that Dunkirk is a bad film. Quite the contrary, it is an amazing piece of cinematography. Yes, the approach Christopher Nolan took was different. Different does not always equivalate bad, even when breaking standard tropes of a genre. People reviewing the film negatively mainly complain about the lack of a main character. That is partly what makes the film so real. In war, the real Dunkirk, there was no “main character”. Having a main character is a concept for fiction stories and does not fit all historical films.

The movie jumps between three perspectives: a soldier trapped on the beach, a British pilot, and civilians on a boat moving to evac the trapped soldiers. Whereas many other history films are about “who”, Dunkirk is about “what”. None of the characters feel special. The story is not centered around them. There are thousands of other people in this same situation; we just happen to see these ones.

We have a soldier on land, a pilot in the sky, and civilians at sea. This allows us to see the entire conflict from the perspective of the British and French forces. One of the surprising, and amazing, things about the film: you never see the Germans. Bullets whiz by, bombs are dropped, torpedoes are fired…but you never actually see a German soldier. This is a clear reminder that Dunkirk was not fight, it was an evacuation. The British and their allies had lost; they were fish in a barrel just hoping that they could retreat. Enemy forces keep chipping away at them and every person there knows that they could be next.

With multiple narratives, it really is not possible for audiences to get too invested in any one character. The lack of emotional depth can be supplemented if you know more about the battle of Dunkirk beforehand. There is very little dialogue in the film and no real explanation behind what is happening. If you crack open a history book or skim over a Wikipedia before watching the movie, it makes more sense. Dunkirk is not a film you may like when you first watch it. It is a film that takes some reflection and possibly a rewatch to fully appreciate. For fans of war, history, and/or critical analysis, it is a fantastic film. For the casual film goer, it may not be the best choice.

July 30, 2017

Overlord, Vol. 4: The Lizardman Heroes

Published Post author

Overlord, Vol. 4: The Lizardman Heroes Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 4: The Lizardman Heroes
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
May 23, 2017 (English); July 31, 2013 (Japanese)
Hardcover
304

An army of death approaches a peaceful lizardman village--an army of undead deployed by Nazarick. Its commander is the Sovereign of the Frozen River Cocytus. The lizardman coalition shall face the Great Tomb of Nazarick. The weak are meat the strong shall eat in the merciless world that awaits in Volume 4.

 

The Lizardman Heroes plays out fairly differently from the previous books in the Overlord series. The premise of this story is that Ainz is sending an army to attack various lizardman villages. However, eight days prior to the attack they give the lizardmen a heads-up about this. While there are scenes here and there following Ainz’s group, most of the book is from the lizardman characters point-of-view. Having read the last three books, we as readers know these guys are just going to get slaughtered. The lizardmen, however, do not know this and that makes them interesting as characters.

For what will probably be one-shot characters, the lizardmen were incredibly well developed. The Lizardman Heroes goes into detail about how their society works, the history of their culture, the individual history of the key lizardman characters, and more. Even a love story manages to work its way in there on the eve of this massive battle. Most of the book is the central lizardman character, Zaryusu, trying to shore up his people’s defenses. This seemingly impossible task of getting everyone to work together is their only hope for survival and it is incredibly well written.

Titling the book “The Lizardman Heroes” is a very apt name. Zaryusu and the other lizardman do genuinely believe that they have a chance. They see this giant army that outnumbers them 3-to-1 incoming and know if they fight smart, they can win. This leads to some other character development as well, with Cocytus. Ainz put Cocytus in charge of the invasion as a learning opportunity for our favorite icy bug man. Ainz’s fight against Shalltear in the last book demonstrated that while the floor guardians are strong, they do not fight smart. They are so used to overwhelmingly overpowering opponents that they do not fight well tactically. Getting them to cover these weaknesses to avoid another incident like with Shalltear seems to be one of Ainz’s goals.

While Ainz’s group is not the focus in this book, we do see enough of them to get more character development. Ainz himself is shown to be furthering various goals to strengthen his power base while simultaneously starting to feel the pressure of being a ruler. Giving the characters challenges they cannot just solve with epic magic spells is very important here. If every book is just them one-siding every fight they are in, Overlord will get stale very fast. While the lizardman perspective was a different and somewhat slower approach, it was a way of keeping the series fresh. Still, getting back to focusing on Ainz’s group in the next book will be good too.

July 23, 2017

Overlord, Vol. 3: The Bloody Valkyrie

Published Post author

Overlord, Vol. 3: The Bloody Valkyrie Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 3: The Bloody Valkyrie
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
January 31, 2017 (English); March 30, 2013 (Japanese)
Hardcover
288

Lord Ainz has made great progress moonlighting as the indomitable hero Momon, but what should be a moment of triumph is shattered--by news of rebellion. He vows to find out what has happened and to defend the honor of his guild and home--Ainz Ooal Gown.

 

The Bloody Valkyrie backtracks a bit from where the previous book stopped, showing what some other characters were up to. It opens with Shalltear, Sebas, and Solution (one of the Pleiades combat maids) off on a mission. (Apologies for the upcoming spoiler, but without it reviewing this book just is not going to happen.) While they start off dominating anyone trying to fight them, things go awry and Shalltear ends up mind controlled. These opening scenes are entertaining, highlighting how monstrous the main characters are compared to normal people. From this point on, the book switches back mostly to Ainz’s point-of-view.

In the first two books, we have seen Ainz and co. completely dominate every opponent they have faced. This time around the opponent is one of their own, someone who is as powerful as the other main characters. Ainz’s character development continues in this book as he begins to view his minions more as people. Most of them are modeled after their creators, Ainz’s old friends, and observing them reminds him of the good old days and makes him long for those long-lost companionships. These feelings are ultimately what make Ainz decide to face Shalltear in a one-on-one battle.

The big battle between Ainz and Shalltear is obviously the main part of The Bloody Valkyrie. As the story explains, Shalltear’s fighting style is pretty much designed specifically to kill magic users like Ainz. This part of the story does make more sense for readers who have played MMO games and are familiar with their combat mechanics. The novel is also much more detailed in that regard than the television show was, allowing for better explanations of the combat scenes. Kugane Maruyama does very well when writing fight scenes and that really gets a chance to shine in this book.

Like in the last book, there were scenes in The Bloody Valkyrie that were downplayed in the television show. Some of these scenes were probably cut short for time constraints and still worked within the show. However, two key scenes were omitted from the anime entirely. These scenes are probably not going to be too important until later in the story and the TV show producers likely did not know if they were getting renewed for another season when that decision was made, so it is understandable if disappointing. Still, if you want to keep up with this series this is a book that cannot be skipped in lieu of watching this show.

July 16, 2017

Overlord, Vol. 2: The Dark Warrior

Published Post author

Overlord, Vol. 2: The Dark Warrior Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 2: The Dark Warrior
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
September 27, 2016 (English), November 30, 2012 (Japanese)
Hardcover
256

It has been a week since Momonga logged in to his favorite RPG one last time and stranded himself there. Now he leads his guild as the Ainz Ooal Gown overlord. Finding himself in dire need of better information, he travels disguised as an adventurer to the walled city of E-Rantel, with Narberal the battle maid at his side. The pair accept a mission to retrieve medicinal herbs, making for a forest said to be the home of a great and wise beast. But the sinister influence of a fanatical cabal approaches E-Rantel, and the armor-clad Ainz will face both a ruthless warrior and a legion of the undead!

 

The Dark Warrior picks up one week from where The Undead King left off. With almost no knowledge of this strange new world, Ainz sets off for intelligence gathering. Donning a dark suit of armor and the name Momon, he poses as an adventurer to learn the lay of the land. This premise shows that Ainz is clever enough to be cautious. His battles in the previous book leave the impression he is nigh invincible in this new world. But he does not know that for sure and does not assume it. Ainz wants to take things slowly and find sure footing, as opposed to immediately becoming overconfident.

Ainz’s plans for the future stick out in other ways as well. The currency in the new world is different from the money he has stockpiled, which has two effects. One, he cannot spend most of their money without giving away that he is a “foreigner”. Two, he has no idea if the new money will work to create items, cast magic spells, etc. Despite being in a real world, video game rules do apply to Ainz’s new life. Not necessarily all of the same rules he is used to though, hence his extreme caution.

Besides Ainz, we do get some other good character development in this book. One of the Pleiades (battle maids), Narberal, accompanies him disguised as an adventurer so we get to flesh her out. A slew of new characters come in as well; a group of adventurers, their client, and a villain. The Swords of Darkness adventurers are a happy, campy group of well-rounded, typical adventurers. They gave a good feel for what most adventurers in this world are probably like. In the story they take a job for Nfirea, a talented young potion maker. He was a smart character who was put together well; hopefully we see more of him in the future. Lastly was the villainess Clementine; man, she was a cold-hearted snake. A nasty, nasty lady who is probably as evil as some of the literal monsters Ainz hangs out with.

The Undead King seemed more about world building while The Dark Warrior seemed more focused on characters. Notably, there were some differences from the television show in here as well. While the episodes that covered The Undead King did not leave much out, a lot of scenes from The Dark Warrior were either cut short or omitted completely from the show. It made the story much easier to follow in the book, which will make me happy to keep reading Overlord!

July 9, 2017

Overlord, Vol. 1: The Undead King

Published Post author

Overlord, Vol. 1: The Undead King Book Cover Overlord, Vol. 1: The Undead King
Overlord
Kugane Maruyama
Fantasy
Yen On
May 24, 2016 (English); July 30, 2012 (Japanese)
Hardcover
256

The once popular game Yggdrasil was supposed to shut down that day. Everyone was supposed to be logged out automatically. But the players who stayed online past the moment the servers went quiet found themselves transported to a game world made real. Leading them is Momonga--a man whose love of games in the real world brought him only loneliness, now a skeletal sorcerer. The legends of Momonga and his guild begin here!

 

Overlord is a “trapped in a game” story, similar to Tron or Log Horizon. The rules here are a little different from some other “stuck in virtual reality” stories. It is just one guy (username Momonga) who is trapped instead of the usual group of people. Despite not having other players trapped with his, the NPCs controlled by his guild have all come to life. They are now real people, but their personalities stay just like in the game. Saying they view Momonga as the boss is an understatement; he is more like a god to them.

This world they are trapped in is a bit different from similar stories as well. The video game Momonga was playing, Yggdrasil, is not where they are. They have been transported to an entirely new world; they are in unknown territory. By and large Momonga and his Guardians (essentially generals who defended his guild base from invaders in Yggdrasil) seem to be extremely powerful in this new world, but for all they know something just around the corner could be tough enough tOverlord, o crush them like ants. Interestingly, the book does not mention how or why Momonga got stuck in this new world. It just…happens. Presumably, that is a point that will be covered in the later books.

As characters, Momonga and the Guardians seem more in line with villains than protagonists. You have a lich (Momonga), demon man, a pair of dark elves, giant bug-man, vampire girl, demon lady, and a butler who probably is not human either. Beyond Momonga, there is not too much character development in this book. At the beginning of the book it is shown that each of the NPC characters had backstories in the game, so we will probably learn more about them later on in the series.

Usually the goal in these “trapped” stories is to get out and go home. Momonga has absolutely no interest in doing that. On the contrary, he seems happy with this turn of events. He has gone from being a video game obsessed office worker to a supreme overlord with an army overnight. Momonga is, if anything, the bad guy. He has become an (evil?) undead with a legion of monsters ready to serve him. By no means is he a nice person in this story, but he is not unnecessarily killing or torturing people either. But he would do both of those things if it furthered his goals. A lot of things in this story seem to be on the flipside of what you would usually expect and that is what makes it so interesting.

July 2, 2017

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Published Post author

Poster for the movie ""

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Every body has a secret.

20161 h 26 min
Overview

Father and son coroners who receive a mysterious homicide victim with no apparent cause of death. As they attempt to identify the beautiful young "Jane Doe," they discover increasingly bizarre clues that hold the key to her terrifying secrets.

Metadata
Director André Øvredal
Runtime 1 h 26 min
Release Date 21 December 2016
Details
Movie Media DVD
Movie Status Available
Movie Rating Very good

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of the most terrifying modern horror films we have. Saying it is one of the scariest films ever would not be much of an exaggeration. Typically, I am not a fan of films where the villain is some unseen force. But this one was good over to get me over my prejudice. Even if, like me, you are not a fan of ghost/haunting movies, watch The Autopsy of Jane Doe. This film puts itself in Blair Witch Project and Babadook territory with how terrifying it is.

Our cast in the film is small, focusing on a father-son pair of morticians for most of the movie. Both characters are fairly normal guys who are relatable. Having a young man plus an older gentleman made for a good dynamic as their terror slowly increases. There are a few supporting characters as well, primarily the young mortician’s girlfriend and the town sheriff who has been investigating a mysterious homicide and brings the Jane Doe to the morgue. While their involvement in the film is somewhat minimal, they are still good characters who play their roles well. And then of course there is the villain of the film but not much can be said about them due to spoilers.

Many modern horror movies just try to make audiences feel disgusted. Throw a few buckets of fake blood all over the screen and add in jump scares here and there. A lot of modern cop dramas and other late air TV programs show people getting their heads blown off and being tortured five nights a week, so simple blood and guts just do not cut it anymore. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is scary because it psychologically messes with you. Audiences will spend most of the film thinking about what could be there. Is it behind the door in front of you? Or is it behind you, lurking in the shadows?

Leaving horror to the imagination is a very strong approach in this genre. For some other forms of storytelling, it is just lazy. You cannot name any timeless classics that are “choose your own ending” books for a reason. But when people are afraid, they tend to imagine whatever they fear most. You become convinced that the monster is lurking in that one particular spot. That at any second, it will jump out and grab you. And then the danger comes from somewhere you did not expect. Maybe you will not even see it coming. The film itself certainly seemed to come out of nowhere with how good it was.

June 25, 2017

The Women in the Castle

Published Post author

The Women in the Castle Book Cover The Women in the Castle
Jessica Shattuck
Historical Fiction
William Morrow
March 28, 2017
Hardcover
368

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resistor murdered in the failed July, 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First, Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

 

The Women in the Castle is by no means a book you would find in the humor section, but it does bring a quote from “MASH” to mind.

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them – little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

This story is the rare WWII novel that focuses on the life of civilians who were affected by the conflict. They are German civilians, on top of that. The three women this story follows all find themselves in the same situation, yet they all walk different roads. None of them asked for their country to go to war or their husbands to die. They did not ask to be widows trying to care for their children in a broken land. Their lives were shattered and they were thrown together, forced to reassemble the pieces as best they could.

Another factor making this book unique is that it mostly takes place after the war. WWII stories tend to focus on the conflict itself, the battles and the action. There are bits in The Women in the Castle taking place before and during the war but most of the book is afterwards. This story goes beyond the typical “Allies good, Axis bad” set-up. It shows that there were people within the Axis powers who disagreed with their leaders to the point of self-sacrifice. And when these individuals failed to bring down the Nazi party they left families behind.

For everything these women go through, you have to remember that they were the lucky ones. They were considered to be “pure” (Aryan) enough to not simply be executed. These women had food for themselves and their children. Their home was sturdy and heated; it was not a bombed out ruin in a city. But their country was broken and almost an entire generation of men was gone. To see how these people survive in the aftermath of such an unimaginable atrocity is becoming harder to depict. As time marches on, people begin to forget the terrors of the past. Even the greatest terror that the world has ever seen are being forgotten when not even a century has passed. It is crucial to remember that while this story is fiction, these horrors were real. People like these women and their children and everyone around them were real.

June 18, 2017