Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Book Review: The Angel Makers, by Jessica Gregson (Soho, 2011)
Set in a small Hungarian village around World War I, this "can't put it down" adult historical fiction novel centers around a teenaged girl, Sari, who's orphaned and left in the care of the elderly village midwife and herbalist. Sari is "different," and that's enough to make her disliked and feared by almost everyone in the village, except her fiance, Ferenc. But when World War I breaks out and most of the young men in the village leave for the front, Sari becomes closer to the other women in the village, who begin to include her in their gossip and rituals. Most of the women seem content to be temporarily rid of their brutish boyfriends and husbands, and when a prisoner-of-war camp for Italian officers is set up nearby, they are only too happy to find excuses to work at the camp, leading inevitably to flirting and affairs between the local women and the officers, despite the language gap.
Even Sari is not immune to the Italians' charms, and soon is involved in a passionate affair with an Italian professor who stimulates her mind as well as her senses. When the local men begin to return at the end of the war, including Sari's fiance, Ferenc, the Hungarian men's suspicions are aroused, and violence ensues. Sari fears for her life, but ever resourceful, she comes up with a clever and devious plan to get rid of Ferenc. It's not long before other women in the village want her help to rid themselves of their own husbands. Will the village women get away with their sinister plans?
Amazingly, this novel is based on a true story the author discovered in a "true crime" book. I found the story riveting, as did my teenage daughter. I think teenage girls will be drawn to the teenaged protagonist, as well as to the love, passion, and crime central to the story. It's a tale that's hard to forget, somehow mixing elements of fairy tale (the witch-like girl in the small village) and a more contemporary-feeling revenge story in a satisfying blend that will keep you up at night thinking about it. I'm wondering if it's been optioned for the movies--I could definitely see it as a great thriller!