Hands up – I thought I’d hate this, but I actually quite liked it. I don’t mean that I had anything against either the author or the book, but this is a genre which I normally avoid like the plague – “dystopian novels”. However this month’s Facebook group reading challenge was to read a “young adult dystopian novel”, so that’s what I did.
I don’t really get the appeal of dystopian novels, I have no idea why anyone over the age of about 8 is now referred to as a “young adult”, and I thought that Ryan was a boys’; name and was rather bemused to discover that Ryan Graudin was a woman, but never mind. Anyway, if I was going to put myself through reading a dystopian novel, I was going to find one which was at least vaguely historical; and that’s how I came to this one – which is set in an alternative universe in which the Nazis have won the Second World War, taken over the whole of Europe and Africa, and divvied Asia up between themselves and the Japanese, whilst the US has stayed out of it. The American author has completely and utterly ignored the existence of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom were playing an important role in the fight against the Axis powers, and pretty much ignored Central and South America too: that really annoyed me.
Our heroine, Yael – and I’m afraid that I was nearly at the end of the book before it finally dawned on me that the name had been chosen because of the Jael and Sisera Bible story – escaped from a concentration camp as a child, and now, in 1956, is part of the Resistance movement and plans to assassinate Hitler. OK, I was with it this far.
As a result of being the victim of experiments carried out by a Dr Geyer, who is presumably based on Mengele, she can “skinshift” to make herself look like anyone else who’s nearby or whose photo she’s seen (it’s originally explained that she can “shift” into their face, although presumably she can also shift into their height, weight, voice etc). Right. This was getting rather … er, well, not my kind of thing.
And, as Hitler rarely goes out in public, the only way she can get close to him is to kidnap a young female motorbike champion, “skinshift” into her identity – fooling everyone, including the said rider’s brother and ex-boyfriend (which seems pretty unlikely, although I suppose I bought the Blake/Krystle/Rita storyline in Dynasty back in the day!) – , and win a prestigious Berlin to Tokyo motorbike race which for some reason goes via North Africa (it’s not quite clear how come she’s suddenly become an expert biker), which will mean that she gets to dance with Hitler at the champions’ ball, and can then shoot him.
No, me neither. “Skinshifting”? Hitler at a motorbike champions’ ball? Incidentally, I absolutely hate motorbikes. Horrible noisy things. But it was actually rather entertaining. However, that wasn’t so much the dystopian stuff as the descriptions of the places through which the race went, and the rather inventive attempts of the competitors to nobble each other – everything from drugging water bottles to shoving people off boats, to transmitting tranquillisers by kissing. Oh, and they all got kidnapped by the remnants of the Red Army at one point. On a more serious note, we heard about Yael’s memories of the concentration camp and the loss of her mother (her father was never mentioned, for some reason) and friends.
At the end, she did actually get to dance with Hitler, and shot him. You’d think that, at a ball attended by both Hitler and Emperor Hirohito, there’d have been some sort of security checks to ensure that no-one was carrying guns, knives or anything else, but apparently not. Only it wasn’t Hitler – it was a skinshifting doppelganger. But, because people thought Hitler had been killed, uprisings started everywhere.
I did actually get quite into it, which surprised me. The “skinshifting” was a step too far, though, especially as surely there was no way that she could have fooled the brother and ex-boyfriend of the person she was impersonating – who, incidentally, was totally forgotten about, having been kidnapped and locked up but with no mention of how she was to manage for food and drink and so on! I shall be sticking to normal historical novels in future, but, hey, each to their own, and if people enjoy reading dystopian novels then good luck to them!