The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

The first time I saw this YA book in a catalog, the tagline caught my eye: “What if Hitler had won World War II?” And my response was, “SQUEEEEE!” Not at the thought of Hitler’s victory, of course; but at the idea of a new book that deals with the consequences of imagined alternate history. I put it on my watch-list and requested it as soon as it popped up on Netgalley (Thank you so much, Scholastic!) I did wonder how the Nazis would have won the war in this reality…and that’s when a little bit of  Captain America crossed with X-Men is added to the mix. Wheeee!

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

THE PLOT: (Imagine movie voiceover guy here…) In a WORLD where Adolf Hitler won WWII and executed President Roosevelt, and Washington D.C. is now known as Neuberlin…

It’s been 80 years since the Allies lost the war, and the world is divided into territories ruled by Nazis, Japan, Italy, and the Soviet Union. Germany won the war by developing genetically enhanced “super soldiers” before America could develop the atom bomb. These sentinels continue to enforce the rule of the Empire by wielding special powers. American “peasants” are known as Kleinbauern.

Zara St. James is a teenager who lives in the Shenandoah Valley of what used to be the United States, but is now the Eastern American Territories of the Nazi Empire. Zara is the product of a Japanese soldier who used and abandoned his American lover, so she is looked down on as a Untermensch, a sub-human half-breed, or a Mischling of mixed race. Zara’s mother was killed in the last attempt at rebellion. Her uncle Redmond (Red) also used to be a revolutionary, but now lives a docile life trying to fly under the radar of the Nazi government while he brings Zara up.

Zara has lost friends and loved ones who dared to speak out against the regime. Her life of servitude is spent cleaning the nearby Nazi academy and serving the cadets who attend. She tries to keep out of the cadets’ way and avoid drawing attention to herself, but Bastian Eckhart, son of Fort Goering’s commanding officer, seems to have an interest in her. What are his real motivations?

Plus, Zara is hiding a secret: she’s an anomaly—she has special powers like the sentinels, probably passed down through her father. She can control the wind, and eventually finds out she can create lightning as well. Uncle Red begs her to keep her powers hidden because the Nazis kill Kleinbauern anomalies, who might be a threat to them. But a series of events eventually pushes Zara straight to the heart of the American rebellion.

MY TWO CENTS: I have a lot of respect for any author who writes alternate history.  First the author has to KNOW history, and then he or she has to deal with the ripple effect of how changing the events also changes the outcomes. That’s a LOT of detail, from the big things, like how France is now the “French Territorial State,” to all the horrible detail stepped out in the White House scene in the climax. Maybe some readers will be drawn into researching some details of WWII. For example, do kids today even learn who Goering was? If not, maybe they’ll be intrigued enough to find out.

The book gradually builds toward two battles, a prison break and a final, massive mission. The first half of the book lays a lot of groundwork, while the second half pays off with a lot of action. My one semi-gripe could be that Zara becomes so important to the final mission, which seems to happen very quickly. I don’t know, though, if a sequel is guaranteed, and if not, it makes a lot of sense for Zara to fulfill a lot of potential by the end of this book.

Finally, I cannot stress how glad I am that this book his fairly little romance in it. Yes, we get that Bastian and Zara have a spark between them, but there is no full-blown romance and, thank you SO much, no love triangle.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a young adult book for the thinking reader. The spirit of The Hunger Games, but with a basis in actual world history. Young readers who are just looking for entertainment might learn something without even realizing it! A tiny hint of possible romance, but the book doesn’t revolve around it.

TEACUP RATING: A solid five out of five teacups. I’m glad this book lived up to the excitement I felt before reading it, and I sincerely hope there’s a sequel, if not a series.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover and eformats on September 30, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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