Captain Klaus Woermann isn’t a fan of the Nazis or the SS and doesn’t exactly keep this a secret. But he’s also a hero from the First World War, so the Nazi regime deals with him by sending he and a small troop to Romania to guard a pass the Russians could possibly use. They set up to guard the place in a building known as the keep. It should be a quiet assignment, but when the German soldiers start being killed one a night by having their throats ripped out, the SS is sent to investigate.
SS Major Kaempffer wishes to solve this mystery as soon as possible so he may start his new promotion of running the extermination camp for Romania. He is sure he can solve this mystery quickly.
Professor Cuza and his daughter Magda are Romanian Jews who have already been pushed out of their work in academia. They also just so happen to be the only experts on the keep. When the SS sends for them, they are sure it is the beginning of the end. But what is more evil? The mysterious entity killing the Germans or the Nazis?
It’s hard not to pick up a book that basically advertises itself as a vampire killing Nazis and the only ones who can stop the vampires are a Jewish professor and his daughter. I mean, really, what an idea! Most of the book executes this idea with intrigue and finesse, although the end leaves a bit to be desired.
The characterization of the Germans is handled well. They are a good mix of morally ethical people who are caught up in a regime following orders and see no way out (the army men) and evil men who enjoy inflicting pain upon others and are taking advantage of the regime to be governmentally sanctioned bullies, rapists, and murderers. Having both present keeps the book from simply demonizing all Germans and yet recognizes the evil of Nazism and those who used it to their advantage.
Similarly, Magda and her father Professor Cuza are well-rounded. Professor Cuza is a man of his time, using his daughter’s help academically but not giving her any credit for it. He also is in chronic pain and acts like it, rather than acting like a saint. Magda is torn between loyalty to her sickly father and desires to live out her own life as she so chooses. They are people with fully developed lives prior to the rise of the Nazis, and they are presented as just people, not saints.
In contrast, the man who arrives to fight the evil entity, Glaeken, is a bit of a two-dimensional deus ex machina, although he is a sexy deus ex machina. Very little is known of him or his motivations. He comes across as doing what is needed for the plot in the moment rather than as a fully developed person. The same could easily be said of the villagers who live near the keep.
The basic conflict of the plot is whether or not to side with the supernatural power that seems to be willing to work against the Nazis. Thus, what is worse? The manmade evil of the Nazis or a supernatural evil? Can you ever use a supernatural evil for good? It’s an interesting conflict right up until the end where a reveal is made that makes everything about the question far too simple. Up until that point it is quite thought-provoking, however.
The plot smoothly places all of these diverse people in the same space. The supernatural entity is frightening, as are the Nazis. These are all well-done.
One thing that was frustrating to me as a modern woman reader was the sheer number of times Magda is almost raped or threatened with rape, and how she only escapes from rape thanks to anything but herself. In one instance, the Nazi simply runs out of time because the train is about to move out. In another, she is saved by a man. In a third, she is saved by supernatural devices. While it is true that rape is a danger in war zones, it would be nice if this was not such a frequently used conflict/plot point for this character. Once would have been sufficient to get the point across. As it is, the situation starts to lose its power as a plot point.
The ending is a combination of a deus ex machina and a plot twist that is a bit unsatisfying. There also isn’t enough resolution, and it appears that the next books in the series do not pick up again with these same characters, so it is doubtful there is more resolution down the road. It is a disappointing ending that takes a turn that is nowhere near as powerful and interesting as the rest of the book.
Overall, this is an interesting fantastical take on a historic time period. The ending could possibly be disappointing and not resolve enough for the reader and some readers will be frustrated with the depiction of the sole female character. However, it is still a unique read that is recommended to historic fiction fans and WWII buffs that don’t mind having some supernatural aspects added to their history.
4 out of 5 stars