Saturday, September 8, 2012

Shadow on the Mountain (review)

3.5/5 stars

Shadow on the Mountain is set in WW2 but it's not one of the stories we're used to hearing.  It's not about Germany, death-camps and Jews are only mentioned a couple of times.  This is the story of occupied Norway during WW2.  I always enjoy books that give me a new perspective on history I thought I knew.  If Norway was covered at all in any of my world history classes, it was just a footnote.

There's a lot to like about Shadow on the Mountain.  The story is engaging and interesting, while being grounded in real history.  Even when occupied, the Norwegian resistance continues undermining the German authority.  Sometimes it's in small ways, refusing to complete a ski race the Germans made mandatory, but as the war continue the main character Espen becomes more and more involved.  He starts by carrying illegal newspapers for the resistance, helping keep the Norwegians informed about the real news not the Nazi propaganda.

The biggest flaw in this book is that the character reads much younger than he is.  Throughout most of the book Espen is nearly 16, but until someone mentioned his age I was convinced he was 12.  Maybe the author intends for a younger audience to read this book, I don't know, but Espen never felt his age.  His youth is emphasized so many times early in the book, he's the youngest on his soccer team, the resistance talks about how young he is, he seems baffled by girls, etc.  The age-confusion hurts character development.

The way time passed in this novel did not help my confusion about Espen's age.  Within a few pages a day could pass or a year could pass.  At the beginning of chapter headers there were occasionally years, but one chapter could take place in 1940 and the next skip to 1942 in a blink of an eye.

This book handled the Nazis well.  The writer took effort to humanize them, showing that they weren't all just mindless drones but often conscripted soldiers and people.  This is not to say that it minimized that evil that happened.  The book showed guards who would look the other way while Ingrid fed prisoners, and she sympathized with how lonely they must feel when the Norwegians ignored even polite conversation.  I tend to think the world isn't completely black and white, and the novel showed Nazi soldiers who were still human.  Part of me wishes the main villain, a Norwegian boy who joined the Nazis, had been more humanized.  He was more simplistic and cruel for the sake of cruelty than I would like.

Though there are some flaws in this book, it was a really interesting read.  It managed to tell a new story about WW2 while being engaging, at times funny and completley readable.

An advance reading copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

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