Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: The Only Thing to Fear - Caroline Tung Richmond

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond
Genre: YA, alternate history
Published on September 30, 2014
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 280
Read From: 3.29.15 - 4.2.15

It's been nearly eighty years since the Allies lost World War II in a crushing defeat against Hitler's genetically engineered super soldiers. America has been carved up by the victors, and sixteen-year-old Zara lives a life of oppression in the Eastern-American 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 dares to dream of an America she's only read about in banned books - a land of freedom and equality. 
Rumblings of a revolution are growing in the Territories, and a rogue rebel group known as the Alliance is plotting a deadly coup. Zara might hold the key to taking down the Fuhrer for good. . . .but it also might be the very thing that destroys her. Because what she has to offer the Alliance is something she's spent her entire life hiding from the world, under threat of immediate execution by the Nazis.


Dear The Only Thing to Fear,

All I needed to do was see your cover and read your synopsis, and I immediately wanted to read you. WWII is one of my favorite topics, and Nazis are the most intimidating villains history has seen. I had no doubt I would like you, Only Thing to Fear, and I was not disappointed.

You explore a very intriguing - and very frightening - "what if": What if the Nazis had won? In Zara's world, they did. It's eighty years after the Allies lost WWII, and the world has been divided up among the Axis powers: Italy, Japan, and Germany. Ever since the Nazis' super soldiers - Anomalies with bizarre powers - flooded the battlefront, an uneasy truce has existed between the Nazi Empire and the Soviets. But the Nazi world may be on the brink of collapse. . . .

Zara is half American, half Japanese - and she has lived in Nazi-America all of her life, scraping and bowing to the Aryans at every turn. She does all she can to go unnoticed, because if the Nazis knew what she was - a non-German Anomaly - she'd be shot. But war is brewing. The Soviets are getting restless and the Revolutionary Alliance is aiming for the heart of the Empire. Zara's mother and uncle are already involved; her powers may be just what they need to win.

I applaud your accuracy, Only Thing to Fear. Minus the Anomalies and their "superhero" powers, you present a very believable image of what the world might have been like had the Allies lost. Punishment is swift and brutal; there is no messing around with this totalitarian regime. The Capitol of Panem couldn't hold a matchstick to this government. And while the story takes place eighty years later, there's still a '40's-era charm to the style.

I sympathized with Zara, who has lost so much. Her mother shot in an Alliance raid gone wrong, humbled and humiliated at every turn, hiding in constant fear of her powers being discovered. She has a fighting spirit and wants to do everything she can to oppose the Nazis. Sometimes this led to face-palm-worthy brash actions. This brashness also made me sympathize with her Uncle Red. Loss and fear made him cautious. I got tired of his inaction, but I understood.

What surprised me most, though, was your lack of a love triangle. You had the setup: Bastian, a gentle, kind, handsome German boy who wants to join the Alliance - and Garrison, the rugged, courageous rebel leader. Both very likable young men, both a little older than Zara. I have seen this a thousand times, Only Thing to Fear: love triangle.

No! Garrison is hardly in the book and Zara doesn't notice him beyond him being the courageous rebel leader - someone to admire. Her affections are solidly engaged by Bastian, and Garrison thinks of her as a kid. This threw me for a pleasantly surprising loop. No love triangle! I'm still confounded!

Your plot was good - I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was happy that I could totally side with the rebels, and I appreciated how you took the time to world build without slowing down. But towards the end, you started going too fast - and before I knew it, you were over. Your ending is very open; no sequel, but certainly room for one if Caroline Tung Richmond decided to write one. So I can't accuse you of being too tidy; you weren't. It's very clear that this is just the beginning. But as Zara progressed through her mission, I kept saying to myself, "Wait, wait; slow down! This is already happening?!"

I loved you, Only Thing to Fear. You were near perfection. Believable, good characters, a frightening "what if," and an ending that just came too fast. But I'm not sure I can hold that against you.

Feeling pleased,

~ Mara ~

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