As a long-time fan of Penny Vincenzi, when I was looking for an indulgent and absorbing read during the recent bank holiday weekend, I searched for authors like her - and one suggestion which came up was Enemies of the Heart by Rebecca Dean. Liking the description of it, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle and got stuck in.
Enemies of the Heart opens in 1909, when cousins Zelda and Vicky are visiting Berlin. American Zelda has her eye on Josef Remer, heir to the immense House of Remer steelworks and fortune, while quieter Vicky falls for his shyer brother Berthold Remer. When war breaks out in 1914 though, the family is pulled apart and loyalties are tested. What follows is a family saga taking us past the end of the Second World War, and encompassing both Berlin and Yorkshire.
In the early sections of the story, the narrator is primarily Vicky, but as time passes and the children from both sides of the family begin to grow up, they also take their part in telling the story. This gives the reader multiple viewpoints, so while the characters might not know what has happened to their relatives during the two wars, we do. Yet some secrets are always withheld, and come as revelations to both characters and reader.
I always find this type of family saga utterly absorbing, with so many parts to the story to discover, and for this type of novel my favourite setting is the first half of the nineteenth century, covering one or both wars. I was almost nervous when I started reading Enemies of the Heart, worried it might not match up to Penny Vincenzi's wonderful novels set in this period, but I needn't have worried. While it doesn't better my absolute favourite of Vincenzi's novels, the Spoils of Time trilogy about the Lytton family, Enemies of the Heart is completely absorbing, wonderfully long, and packed with action and emotion.
What was new to me was the Berlin setting. Most of the novels in this genre that I have read have been set in Britain, with a focus on London, so to read about the German side was different. Additionally London does not feature in Enemies of the Heart, with the English side of the story being set in the idyllic Yorkshire countryside. While part of me missed reading about life in London during the wars, this difference in setting helped set Enemies of the Heart apart from Vincenzi's novels, perhaps meaning I wasn't comparing Rebecca Dean's writing too much with her.
Dean's writing is good, and well suited to the style of the novel. Her characters are portrayed well, ad it is easy to engage with them. I did occasionally get confused between the various characters and sometimes had to remind myself who were Zelda's children and who were Vicky's, and within that, which of them were German born and which English. This was a minor issue though, and perhaps more to do with my forgetfulness than anything else.
The strongest indicator of how much I recommend this novel lies in the fact that as soon as I finished it half an hour ago, I immediately visited Amazon and bought another of Dean's novels, and then sat down to write this review in order to spread the word. If you enjoy Penny Vincenzi's novels, family sagas, or are simply looking for an absorbing and indulgent read, then you really should try Enemies of the Heart. You won't regret it.
Rebecca Dean is the author of four historical fiction books, The Palace Circle, Enemies of the Heart, Wallis (not sure if this has been released yet) and The Golden Prince. Enemies of the Heart is the third book of Dean's which I have read after thoroughly enjoying the first two, and it didn't disappoint.
Enemies of The Heart by Rebecca Dean starts off in Berlin in 1909 when two cousins, English Vicky and American Zelda are introduced to the Remer brothers, owners of the massive Remer Steel Works in Berlin. Widowed Zelda already has her heart set on marrying the elder Remer brother, and sure that this is Josef Remer she spends the evening flirting. When Vicky falls in love with Berthold and they declare their intention to marry, Zelda is devastated to find out that the geeky looking, quiet Berthold, is actually the elder of the two brothers, so would therefore be inheriting the steel works. She marries Josef anyway, and the wedding day (attended by the Kaiser no less) is first marred by the death of Mr Remer senior, Berthold and Josefs father, and then brightened by the birth of Max, Berthold and Vicky's first son.
Vicky is a Yorkshire girl, and having grown up in the stately Shuttleworth Hall is determined to go back there with baby Max and Paul, Zelda's son from her first marriage whom Zelda has no time for. When they return it is to the shock announcement that not only has the Remer factory been given a large ship building contract which Vicky is determined she will get Berthold to cancel due to the chance that the ships would be used in a war against Britain, but also that Berthold had signed over the company to his younger brother Josef. Vicky feels totally betrayed by her husband, and their relationship is never the same again.
The family carries on as normal for a while, with Vicky adding Hugo to her growing brood, and Zelda with Claus and Lotti. When war is about to break out, Vicky (pregnant with her daughter, Nancy) decides to travel back to Yorkshire with her sons and Paul, whilst Zelda has completely embraced life as a Berliner and is determined to take out German citizenship and remain there for the war. The families are separated for six years, during which time Vicky meets and falls in love with someone else. She still returns to Berlin after the war with the children and tries to fit back into life again. During that time Zelda has given birth to another daughter, Ilse and the family reunion is well written with some of the cousins never having met, and with half speaking German and half English.
The story continues with the rise of Hitler, and the various sides of the family each have varying opinions of him. The family all grow up and start to get married. When the Second World War breaks out, Zelda again remains in Germany with her family and Vicky returns to Yorkshire. Now in the late teens and twenties, the children all play a part in the war, from secret service agents to a pilot for the British Army.
The story continues until 1946 when the war is over and what is left of the family is finally reunited for another family wedding.
I really enjoyed reading about what had happened to the people living in Berlin throughout the war as they tried to get on with their everyday lives, and was also shocked at the suffering and abuse they went through when the Russians entered the city first. Dean has weaved a great story about the conflict that the German and British side of the same family went through, one staying in Berlin with the constant threat of bombings, and one in Yorkshire safely away from the bombs but with no contact with their family for many years. The German side of the family were left with no idea what was really going on in the outside world, with only propaganda news and films shown. They also had no idea about the death camps which the Nazi's had set up, or how the war was going for Germany or The Allies.
The story did jump a lot; one minute we were hearing about Vicky falling in love with another man, and then a few years later they are lovers, but there is nothing in the book about how it happened. The story kept me interested throughout but I think Dean could have made this into two books, and written more about what happened in between, without missing out the big chunks. I did find it frustrating as I would get totally absorbed on a storyline, and then the next chapter was about someone else two years later!
There were some very sad parts to the book which almost had me in tears, and probably would have done if more detail had been gone in to. The description of a torture scene, and life in a concentration camp were well described and moving.
I did find it quite amusing as well, that it was all the cousins falling in love with each other, and then the widow of one falling in love with a cousin of another - talk about keeping it in the family!
All in all it was a great book but I do think Dean could have added a lot more detail. The storyline is great, and held my interest all the way through. I wanted to know who lived and who died, and who was going to end up with whom and would love to have read more about their lives. 4 stars from me.
Paperback available from Amazon new for £2.77 + £2.80 post and packaging, 600 pages.