A ruthless nemesis stalks two lovers in this novel set in 19th-century Germany.
Frau Sandenberg is a strict and unforgiving mistress. The wife of a wealthy landowner who oversees the village of Gluckmutter in Holstein, she firmly believes in the separation of the working and noble classes, and accordingly treats her servants as if they’re less than human. One of those servants, a young washerwoman named Gretchen Haager, internally rebels against this treatment. Gretchen dearly misses her large, boisterous family, and only went into service to save it the cost of feeding yet another mouth. But when she receives a letter with the news that her mother is dying, and Frau Sandenberg (whom she thinks of as “the Villafrau”) refuses to let her visit her family, Gretchen finally decides to defy her mistress and abandon her post. In the same village, a young man named Georg Schillingberg has just returned home after deserting his position in the Prussian army. Georg simply doesn’t believe in Prussia’s dreams of European military domination, and war strays even further from his mind when he happens on Gretchen in a moment of anguish and falls in love with her at first sight. But the watchful eyes of Frau Sandenberg witness the lovers’ meeting—a stroke of bad luck that seals their fate. For no matter where they go or how they disguise themselves, Gretchen and Georg inevitably (and often improbably) become targets of the Villafrau’s wrath. In this series opener, Florence (Out of the Shadow, 2018, etc.) effectively maintains the story’s drama, constantly placing new obstacles in the protagonists’ paths and setting the entire saga against an intriguing backdrop of vast national changes. But the actual telling of the tale significantly hinders its promising structure. The omniscient narrator can’t seem to make up its mind what tone or time period to portray, marrying formal language like “Gretchen attended to her morning ablutions” with such colloquial, anachronistic phrases as “I was doing my thing” and “I’m glad we sorted that out.” And because the dialogue features characters bluntly stating the book’s themes, the complexity of their thoughts and motivations is lost.
An entertaining but clumsily executed revenge tale.