Title: The Beast’s Garden
Author: Kate Forsyth
Genre: historical fiction/fairytale retelling
Date Read: 16/11/2015 – 26/11/2015
Kate Forsyth’s newest novel is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ story, The Singing, Springing Lark, a variation on the Beauty and the Beast story. It is set in Berlin, during the years 1938- 1945. It’s a thoroughly researched novel and well put together, and I read it quite quickly, though I never found myself getting really invested in it.
It’s 1938 and Ava Falkenhorst finds herself drawn to Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein, despite the events of the Night of Broken Glass and the protestations of her family and close Jewish friends. As Germany prepares for war, those close to Ava are no longer safe, and she eventually marries Leo in exchange for him keeping her father safe. She feels she needs to do something to help the movement against Hitler’s regime and joins an underground resistance, unaware for the most part that Leo is part of an inside scheme to assassinate Hitler.
Ava and Leo were both solid characters, but I never felt particularly invested in them. Even when things start going very wrong, I kept reading, but never felt particularly worried or bothered by what was going on. And awful things were happening! People were being shipped off to concentration camps, or simply being killed on the streets. Leo also bothered me a) because despite being a spy, he would still make derogatory comments about Jewish people, even when they were standing in the room with him, and b) early on, he made some rather unpleasant remarks about Ava being “his”. In fact, the whole romance felt rather insta-lovey, though at least Leo was self-aware enough the term “in lust” at first, rather than “in love”.
As someone who doesn’t actually know that much about the Second World War, other than the basics, I wish I had read the afterword first, as it revealed just how many of the side characters in this novel were actual historical figures. I really wish I had known this before I read it, as it would have added some depth to the Resistance. As it was, I just found that all the various resistance groups were getting confused in my head, and I had trouble following. This might have been a problem regardless of how much I knew, but I still wish I had known.
The other thing that threw me a bit with this book was the time jumps. The book is divided into several parts, and sometimes there is a leap of up to a year or so between them. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing this, it did make me feel like I was missing something of the characters’ lives, even though I’m sure they were just surviving day-to-day in these in-between sections.
All in all, I feel like this is a solid piece of historical fiction, but not quite as good as my introduction to Kate Forsyth’s work, Bitter Greens. I’ve still got some of Kate’s other works on my TBR, which I plan on getting to this year, so we’ll see how they hold up, too.