Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
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Less mystery, more romance as Hitler consolidates power.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

How Hitler acquired dictator powers, especially details about famous burning of Reichstag and passing of Enabling Act; hatred of Jews stemming from making easy scapegoats for people who were starving and linking Jews to supposed Communist conspiracies; how National Socialist Party consolidated and seized power, especially by infiltrating and taking over police force; some background on Winston Churchill; author's note describes real people and events and factual bases for some fictional people and events.

Positive Messages

We are our own beings; we decide who we want to be. Love isn't enough: One person can't be everything to you; you also need friends, family, a satisfying job.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gretchen is brave, loyal, and clever; puts her own safety on the line to help others; keeps her wits about her; learns to look at things from her own perspective, without the influence of others, even when it's painful to do so. Daniel is supportive, self-sacrificing -- a pretty classic romance-novel hero. 

Violence

Lots of beatings described briefly with some injuries described in detail. Guns brandished or fired half a dozen times. Blood mentioned or described briefly half a dozen times. Speculation about interrogation using torture with some detail; injuries from torture described in detail. Several hard slaps to the face with descriptions of pain.

Sex

A dozen or so kisses briefly described, some with light caressing and physical sensations described briefly. Gretchen and Daniel sleep in the same bed but don't have sex. Its implied that another long-term couple have sex when the woman says she's ruined for other men. Gretchen stays in a boarding house with other young women working as prostitutes.

Language

"Piss" once.

Consumerism

Period-accurate; incidental car makes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main characters don't smoke, but many others do. The smell of cigarette and cigar smoke frequently mentioned. A few scenes in beer halls or nightclubs. Older teens, of age in the period setting, drink beer and champagne at social gatherings. Cocaine mentioned half a dozen times as an escape; Gretchen declines taking any when offered but understands what those who do partake are trying to escape from.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke continues the story, begun in Prisoner of Night and Fog, of a girl who grew up a favorite pet of Adolf Hitler. The author catches the reader up on past events quickly, but it'll be enjoyed better by those who've read the first book. It's a good way to get teens thinking about the causes of World War II, especially about how the National Socialist Party became so strong and how Hitler acquired dictatorial powers. A lot of beatings are described briefly, some guns are fired, blood's mentioned but not described in detail, and once injuries from torture are described in detail. Kisses and sensations of attraction are described briefly. Young women working as prostitutes take cocaine as an escape, and a close friend of the protagonist uses habitually. Main characters don't smoke, but there are frequent mentions of others smoking and of cigar and cigarette smells.

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What's the story?

Having escaped Hitler's clutches in Prisoner of Night and Fog, Gretchen and Daniel have been hiding in England under assumed names for the past 18 months. In the meantime, Hitler has risen to national prominence in Germany and been named chancellor. Events there draw Daniel back to Germany, this time to Berlin, where he's been falsely accused of murder. Gretchen soon follows to help, despite the danger of being recognized as one of Hitler's former favorites. Can they find the real killer, clear Daniel's name, escape Hitler's notice, and get back out of Germany safely?

Is it any good?

The historical events that serve as a backdrop provide a lot of food for thought, and the lively, engaging characters and compelling events will draw teens in and keep the pages turning. Suspense, particularly in the stronger second half, is surprisingly well maintained despite the reader knowing that one of the heroes' main objectives (bringing down Hitler) is doomed to fail.

CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE has a lot of the same strengths as its prequel, Prisoner of Night and Fog: danger, excitement, and relatable characters grappling with coming of age at a crucial turning point in history. But added melodrama (finding the real killer will bring down the National Socialist Party and disgrace Hitler) weaken the structure; the murder mystery becomes less compelling as it's swept up into other events; and phrases such as "the familiar feel of his lips on hers" make it read more like a romance.

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about historical fiction. What's the appeal of seeing imaginary characters in the middle of real events?

  • How does controlling and infiltrating the police department help the National Socialist (Nazi) Party exercise greater control over the people of Berlin? How does it make the party more powerful and harder to stop?

  • How are the ways in which the United States responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks similar to how the Reichstag responded to the burning of the Reichstag building? How are they different?

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For kids who love historical fiction and World War II stories

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