PUBLICATION DATE: OCTOBER 12, 2012
ollowing traumatic events and choosing to deal with their aftermath through alcohol, work, and reclusion, Becker’s life has been slowly crumbling. The result is a life of anger and self-loathing. When a job takes him to France to work on the restoration of a Renaissance era castle, his friend (and work partner) hope the change of scenery will be just what Becker needs to get his life back on track. Shortly after he arrives, Becker meets Jade, his employer’s nanny. Her outlook on life contrasts severely with his self-imposed exile and he soon finds himself questioning his tumultuous relationships and anger driven decisions.
As work progresses on the castle’s restoration, mysterious events begin to occur. On several occasions, Becker suspects someone is searching the premises, but for what he has no idea. Could it be connected to the castle’s Nazi history and the former residents who once gave birth to babies for the Reich? Heavy on details and with awkward pacing Tangled Ashes isn’t exactly what I hoped it would be.
I should have (and really wanted to) love this story. It has numerous elements that I enjoy in novels—flawed characters, historical backdrop, mysterious occurrences, intriguing setting, and an unexpected ending. However, the execution is such that all the good things I like in a story are either overshadowed, underdeveloped, or irritating. I hate it when this happens because I realize that the root issue is my personal expectations and preferences are not the author’s particular style or direction.
I was really looking forward to exploring the Lebensborn aspect of this novel and it is in fact the main reason I chose to read it. I had not read a book which dove into this topic and thought it an excellent backdrop for a story. While the events of World War II and the Lebensborn at the Meunier manor are central to the main plot, overall few pages are devoted to this aspect of the story. Most is provided through short flashback chapters interspersed throughout the rest of the book. This is by far my favorite part of Tangled Ashes and I wish at least twice as much time was spent fleshing out that story. It is an inventive, original tale that is the highlight of the book but is sadly given far too few pages.
The events occurring in the present are the primary focus of the novel. While the story is good, I didn’t connect well with the main character, Becker. I liked the idea of his flawed personality, but unfortunately, he didn’t have enough positive to balance out his irritants. Additionally, the root cause of his issues is revealed a little late in my opinion. So much time is spent setting him up as a struggling, angry character with a mysterious, traumatic past, that by the time his past is revealed he’s already been portrayed as such an incredible jerk that it’s hard to warm up to him. Also, following the big reveal, Becker’s backstory is not really revisited making it feel like an isolated event rather than the ongoing source of his deteriorating life and poor choices. The end result is a character I wanted to like, but felt so overwhelmed by his inner, irrational, negative thoughts, I never could feel the appropriate amount of sympathy required to truly relate to his struggles.
I very much enjoyed Jade’s character though I didn’t interpret her correctly—or at least I don’t think I did. In the closing pages, the dialog between her and Becker seems to indicate that I gave Jade way too much credit, leaving me feeling like I might have missed the ‘correct’ interpretation of her character. In any case, I loved following her story and combined with her employer, the Fallon family, this part of the book really worked for me.
As previously stated, my main issues with Tangled Ashes are personal preferences. I like stories that show me how the characters feel and what motives their actions rather than the author tell me about them. Much of this story feels weighted by excessive details telling how the characters feel. Consequentially, the pacing feels very awkward at times. However, even with the details provided, I never felt immersed in the environment. A Renaissance-era castle once used by the Nazis is such a promising setting, but I could never visualize it. It’s described in adequate detail, but it doesn’t feel real and I did not feel like I was walking through the halls or across the lawn or up the grand staircase. Additionally, the mysterious, present-day occurrences are presented almost as an afterthought though they are central to bringing the whole story together. I realize all these issues are the result of a storytelling style that didn’t work for me.
The ending for this book is really good though. I enjoy untidy endings and the open conclusion fits nicely into the overall story, letting the reader feel the unfinished nature of continuing life. While this book isn’t what I was expecting, there are some very good parts to it. Given the intriguing and inventive premises, with some style adjustments to smooth out the pacing and creating Becker to be a more endearing character, Tangled Ashes could easily have been excellent.