As a long-time fan of Penny Vincenzi, when I was looking for an indulgent and absorbing read during the recent bank holiday weekend, I searched for authors like her – and one suggestion which came up was Enemies of the Heart by Rebecca Dean. Liking the description of it, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle and got stuck in.
Enemies of the Heart opens in 1909, when cousins Zelda and Vicky are visiting Berlin. American Zelda has her eye on Josef Remer, heir to the immense House of Remer steelworks and fortune, while quieter Vicky falls for the shyer Berthold Remer. When war breaks out in 1914 though, the family is pulled apart and loyalties are tested. What follows is a family saga taking us past the end of the Second World War, and encompassing both Berlin and Yorkshire.
In the early sections of the story, the narrator is primarily Vicky, but as time passes and the children from both sides of the family begin to grow up, they also take their part in telling the story. This gives the reader multiple viewpoints, so while the characters might not know what has happened to their relatives during the two wars, we do. Yet some secrets are always withheld, and come as revelations to both characters and reader.
I always find this type of family saga utterly absorbing, with so many parts to the story to discover, and for this type of novel my favourite setting is the first half of the nineteenth century, covering one or both wars. I was almost nervous when I started reading Enemies of the Heart, worried it might not match up to Penny Vincenzi’s wonderful novels set in this period, but I needn’t have worried. While it doesn’t better my absolute favourite of Vincenzi’s novels, the Spoils of Time trilogy about the Lytton family, Enemies of the Heart is completely absorbing, wonderfully long, and packed with action and emotion.
What was new to me was the Berlin setting. Most of the novels in this genre that I have read have been set in Britain, with a focus on London, so to read about the German side was different. Additionally London does not feature in Enemies of the Heart, with the English side of the story being set in the idyllic Yorkshire countryside. While part of me missed reading about life in London during the wars, this difference in setting helped set Enemies of the Heart apart from Vincenzi’s novels, perhaps meaning I wasn’t comparing Rebecca Dean’s writing too much with her.
Dean’s writing is good, and well suited to the style of the novel. Her characters are portrayed well, ad it is easy to engage with them. I did occasionally get confused between the various characters and sometimes had to remind myself who were Zelda’s children and who were Vicky’s, and within that, which of them were German born and which English. This was a minor issue though, and perhaps more to do with my forgetfulness than anything else.
The strongest indicator of how much I recommend this novel lies in the fact that as soon as I finished it half an hour ago, I immediately visited Amazon and bought another of Dean’s novels, and then sat down to write this review in order to spread the word. If you enjoy Penny Vincenzi’s novels, family sagas, or are simply looking for an absorbing and indulgent read, then you really should try Enemies of the Heart. You won’t regret it.
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