Anna is tall, blonde, and statuesque; the British daughter of a violent, Nazi-loving greengrocer; an incurious girl who doesn’t give a fig for politics and dreams of marrying a man with a title. She, as the very first chapter heading so succinctly points out, “is not the heroine.” Hannah is small, dark and gregarious; the German daughter of a loving Jewish cabaret owner; a bright, vivacious girl who wants her country to come to its senses, to sing opera professionally and to marry for love. She, according to the second chapter heading, “is the heroine.”
The two girls both wind up at Starkers (heh), an English manor house—Hannah as a distant relative and now, post-Kristallnacht, a refugee; Anna as a somewhat-unwilling Nazi spy slated to work as an even-more-unwilling kitchen maid—each is almost immediately mistaken for the other, and due to pride on one part and selfishness on the other, neither spills the beans. Despite the horrors of the era in which it’s set, Laura L. Sullivan’s Love By the Morning Star is a romantic farce largely inspired by P.G. Wodehouse, so with a lot of silly misunderstandings, wacky hijinks and comic interludes, everything eventually works itself out and the girls (yes, both of them) get their happy endings.
That aspect of the book—the fact that it’s a romantic comedy set against a World War II backdrop—is likely to be the biggest stumbling block for readers. It’s a hard balance to strike, and while it worked for me—the ignorance and disinterest on the part of most of the aristocrats is believable, in that they regard the plight of Hitler’s victims as the problems of Other People (it’s uncomfortably easy to draw parallels between their behavior and ours in regard to any number of modern day conflicts); Hannah, the only main character who has witnessed Hitler’s rise in person, is determinedly cheerful and given to stream-of-consciousness chatter, but due to her ongoing worries about her friends and family, she’s really just singing into the abyss, à la the divine Phryne Fisher—others may not find the frivolity believable or in good taste.
Like Sullivan’s even-more-fantastic Ladies in Waiting, it’s bawdy—which, given that the heroine was literally born and raised in a Berlin cabaret straight out of, well, Cabaret, isn’t much of a surprise—but the jokes and references are less overt and more sly. It’s likely that many of them will fly over the head of younger readers especially, which will allow for multiple readings on multiple levels. While the tone is slightly darker, the plotting is pure Wodehouse, but Sullivan doesn’t ape his prose style. Instead, she gives direct nods to his books here and there—jokes about a cow creamer, a local family named Psmith, and an off-screen cameo by the man himself—and, very occasionally, slips in a very Wodehousian line, like:
And so, doing good but meaning ill, she sat to her toilette in perfect spiritual contentment.
Also, a note to the publisher: As the book touches on—among many other things—Wodehouse’s controversial WWII broadcasts, a historical note or list of suggested reading would be a welcome addition to a future edition.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.