Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond Review

"In a stunning reimagining of history, debut author Caroline Tung Richmond weaves an incredible story of secrets and honor in a world where Hitler won World War II.

It's been nearly 80 years since the Allies lost WWII in a crushing defeat against Hitler's genetically engineered super soldiers. America has been carved up by the victors, and 16-year-old Zara lives a life of oppression in the Eastern America Territories. Under the iron rule of the Nazis, the government strives to maintain a master race, controlling everything from jobs to genetics. Despite her mixed heritage and hopeless social standing, Zara dreams of the free America she's only read about in banned books. A revolution is growing, and a rogue rebel group is plotting a deadly coup. Zara might hold the key to taking down the F├╝hrer for good, but it also might be the very thing that destroys her. Because what she has to offer the rebels is something she's spent her entire life hiding, under threat of immediate execution by the Nazis. 

In this action-packed, heart-stopping novel of a terrifying reality that could have been, Zara must decide just how far she'll go for freedom."

History has taken an awful twist in The Only Thing To Fear. Hitler and his cronies have taken over the world with the help of Japan. The United States is divided up and destroyed into pieces, and occupation is just nasty for the (former) Americans. Enter Zara, who is very much not part of the new Nazi Empire and our narrator.

First of all, I really love the title. It's a reference to FDR's 1st Inauguration Address in which he stated, "The only thing to fear is fear itself." It's a really touching and powerful quote, and in the context of this story, FDR is executed by the Nazis. Now that's a huge ouch for FDR, but I can't help but muse over the meta-ness of this title and quote and context. It's so worthy of analysis. But moving on...

The world building is intriguing, as always. Alternative history, for me, is a fascinating topic to speculate. There are so many possibilities, and in history, there are a lot of close calls. What if Vasili Arkhipov didn't vote no? (The Cold War would have turned into World War III, and who knows where we will be now?) What if Hitler never left art school and became a paid artist? (Well... We can speculate on that. A lot.) What if, what if, what if? And this book focuses on Hitler discovering the power of super soldiers. It's something out of a Captain America comic book, except for the fact that the Nazis had the superformula first. Because of the shortness of the book, it isn't surprising for the little amount of exposition, but I so want to learn more of this world. The dynamics of the new world are worthy to dig into, and Tung gives it an excellent shot.

Zara is biracial. She's half and half with foots in different worlds. She will never be the model citizen (and she will never want to be one), but she will also never be normal either. She's a great audience surrogate, who questions the actions and motives of the rebel group against Nazis and fights against Nazis themselves. Her character arc is much more subtle compared to the grand ol' arc with its assassination plots and dictators of world domination and "Viva la revolucion" actions.

Speaking of the plot, it's so wild and untamed. For a short book, there is a lot of things happening at once. Resistance, Zara's powers, fighting, fighting, and signs of communism (but that's probably plans for the sequel, so let's not focus on that). It's a roller coaster from start to finish.

The ending brings hope for a sequel, and I would love to see a different version of the Cold War and the rebuilding of a nation.

Overall, The Only Thing to Fear is a fast-paced novel with a lot of high stakes. Zara's inner conflicts is truly interesting to read, and she remains dynamic as she struggles to keep up with her changing world. Recommended for those who love alternative history.

Rating: Three out of Five

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