Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman follows the story of seventeen year old Gretchen Müller, daughter of Nazi martyr Klaus Müller and favorite pet of her beloved Uncle Dolf. Of course, Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler himself. When a Jewish reporter for an anti-Nazi paper tells her that her hero father was actually murdered by one of his own, she starts looking into his death and questioning everything she knows.
I really enjoyed this book. It was different from most WWII historical fiction books I’ve read. It’s a YA book and felt like it—quicker and a little less serious and dark, although it did revolve around serious and dark matters. It was also unique because it took place before Hitler’s full rise to power and Hitler was a real character in this book, not just a dark figure looming over the lives of the characters. We saw him through the eyes of his honorary niece, Gretchen, in a personal light. In the author’s note, Blankman said she based what Hitler said in personal interactions off of things he said in real life, which I appreciated. It was a thoughtful approach to characterizing Hitler as authentically as possible instead of creating a Hitler-based character that ended up being completely of her own creation.
There was nothing spectacularly beautiful about Blankman’s writing, but it was very nice. She wove her fictitious plot in with real events seamlessly, creating a compelling story that pulled me in from the start. It feels like it’s been awhile since I’ve read a book with characters I liked a lot and it was great to return to really rooting for a character. Gretchen was this character for me. In the beginning of the book, she adores her Uncle Dolf and is a firm believer in everything he stands for, though she admits to not really listening to or dissecting his speeches. Daniel Cohen opens her eyes to the suspicions of her father’s death and so ensues her realizations about Hitler’s true nature and what he really wants for the future of Germany. Because most of the characters in this book were Nazis or sympathizers, Gretchen and Daniel are the only characters in this book I really liked. Gretchen’s development throughout the story had me rooting for her and feeling everything she felt.
This book was a mix between the dawning realizations of a young girl and a murder mystery. I really appreciated the believability of the subtle romance between Gretchen and Daniel. It wasn’t a case of insta-love and developed slowly and realistically. Also, even once they’d realized/admitted their feelings for each other, it didn’t overrun every other intriguing part of this book. This was not a romance book by any means. It was an intricately layered plot with several subplots that had my interest. The investigation she and Daniel launched into her father’s death is the main plot but the romance, Gretchen’s realizations, the clashing with her brother and her feelings regarding her family, looking into Hitler’s past and mental health were subplots I enjoyed immensely. The story was fast paced and compelling. The ending was chaotic, tense, dramatic and overall fantastic.
I appreciated the author’s note at the end. Blankman explained what characters were real and how the events of the story happened in real life. I actually learned some details about Hitler’s life from this book, which I was not expecting.
I’m giving this book 4/5 stars. The only reason I’m not giving it 5/5 is because I seriously, seriously enjoyed this book but I didn’t love it. I will be picking up the sequel, but I’m not in a rush to go out and get it.
If you’ve read Prisoner of Night and Fog, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
P.S. I’m obliged to tell you that the phrase “Gretchen released the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding” was used. When will this end?