“The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives in England, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.
But then Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down. When she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped—and return to her homeland.
Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time—or will Hitler discover them first?”
Thoughts on the Novel: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke suffers from sequel syndrome. The readers know the key players and expect bigger things for them. Unfortunately, what they expect and what they get are two different things. For one thing, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Gretchen and Daniel will end up together in the end. Yet, Gretchen spends too much time throughout the book worrying about Daniel and their future together. This teen angst is very distracting. Moreover, it trivializes the historical elements of the novel, which proves counterproductive when building tension and danger for the characters. While readers expect some romance and know that Gretchen’s and Daniel’s relationship will hit a few speed bumps, one wants more drama and more insight into pre-war Germany during Hitler’s rise to power than what the story allows.
Secondly, there is a formulaic quality to the story which also diminishes one’s enjoyment of the novel. In fact, even the least astute of readers will be able to predict certain plot twists and the characters’ paths through Germany. Nothing that occurs is a major surprise. There is something comforting in this fact but also disappointing that there is not more to the story to better differentiate it from the first one.
All that aside, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is still a compelling read because it gives insight into Germany before Hitler became its dictator and set the world aflame. One can tell Ms. Blackman thoroughly prepared her research as she presents a German population so beat down after the first world war that they welcome a vibrant leader who promises them the chance to regain their national pride. She also does a fantastic job of showing just how sly Hitler’s rise to power was. Because readers know “the rest of the story” – Hitler’s dictatorship, his plans for world domination and purification – it is very easy to forget that Gretchen and Daniel are maneuvering through a Germany that is not yet to that level of extremism. Hitler is still trying to impress the leaders around the globe as well as solidify his own position within Germany. One’s insight of the historical context in which Gretchen and Daniel find themselves is vital to one’s understanding why they are virtually alone as they work to clear Daniel’s name and escape the country yet again.
For the historical elements alone, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is a fascinating story. Through Gretchen’s personal insight into Hitler’s behavior, readers get a clear idea of just how such a man could gain an entire country’s trust. Even though Gretchen dwells a bit too much on her future with Daniel and gives herself over to grandiose declarations of love, historical fiction fans can easily overlook/skim those scenes without losing any sense of the main plot. While disappointing in some aspects, the main plot line is intriguing, and the story ends in such a way that readers will be excited to find out what happens next. For a sequel with some fairly large problems, this is as good as it can get.