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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
The World at Night
Kingdom of Shadows is the sixth, stand-alone volume in Alan Furst's ongoing portrait of "the world at night": the cataclysmic 12-year period of Adolf Hitler's ascendancy. Following closely on the heels of 1999's Red Gold, an authoritative account of life in the French Resistance, Furst's latest is a compelling story of a world on the brink of war and a meticulously detailed re-creation of a vanished era.
Kingdom of Shadows begins in March of 1938 and ends during the summer of 1939, a period of uneasy "peace" in which national boundaries shift overnight, political alliances are forged and broken, anti-Semitic sentiments proliferate, and the armies of Europe mobilize for war. Significant events from this period -- all of them part of the fabric of this book -- include Hitler's annexation of Austria, the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the nonaggression pact between Stalin and Hitler, a pact that paves the way for the invasion of Poland and the formal beginning of the war.
Furst shows us these events from the partisan perspective of his deeply sympathetic hero, Nicholas Morath, a Hungarian aristocrat living in exile in Paris. Morath, on the surface, is an unlikely sort of hero. Part owner of a successful advertising agency, he cultivates the appearance of a bon vivant and ladies' man born to a life of privilege. Beneath that surface, he is a committed anti-Fascist, a decorated war hero, and a true descendant of his Magyar ancestors. Following the directives of his wealthy, enigmatic uncle, Count Janos Polanyi, Morath travels from his home in Paris to the trouble spots of Europe, gathering information, collecting money from anti-Nazi sympathizers, doing "favors" for influential friends, and putting himself repeatedly in harm's way.
Morath's adventures form the substance of this plotless, peripatetic novel, and they take him from the mountain fortresses of Czechoslovakia to a Romanian prison, from the aristocratic enclaves of Budapest to the decadent environs of Nazi-dominated Vienna. Together, they illuminate the changing face of a world sliding rapidly into chaos and night. They also illuminate the essential nature of Morath himself, a complex, romantic, thoroughly admirable figure who has dedicated his life to the destruction of National Socialism.
Furst has been compared to a great many writers -- Eric Ambler, Graham Greene, John le Carré -- but none of these comparisons seem particularly apt. Furst is very much his own man, and his six-volume cycle of war novels represents a unique achievement. At their best, as in Kingdom of Shadows, these books literally bring the past to life, resurrecting the sights, sounds, and tensions of a bygone world with passion, artistry, and scrupulous historical accuracy.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has recently been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).