A couple of months ago, I was scanning my shelves for something new to read when I rediscovered the Zion Covenant series by Bodie and Brock Thoene. I had been on something of a novel kick, which is rather odd for me. I love novels, but I typically read nonfiction. When I do read fiction, it’s not typically from the last century. But in the rather neglected section of my library, I came across this series given to me years ago but had never read. At that time, they just didn’t spark interest in me. In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t read them then. I don’t think I would have appreciated them as much as I do now. At the same time, I feel like I have been missing out on a great series all these years! The first book of the series is Vienna Prelude, but I will be referencing general themes from the first three books here.
This historical fiction series has it all. First and foremost, it is well-researched history. The series begins in pre-WWII Europe, at least as far as I have read. I am assuming we will soon be entering the war itself. But the drama, the romance, the narrative is so engaging you’ll find yourself pulled in and wondering what happens next. It is an interesting experience, reading historical fiction. While we all know the major players and the outcome of WWII, the suspense is tangible. The writers lead and entice you just as much as any other new novel. I think the excitement and suspense come from two things. The first is that you get to hear details unheard or considered unimportant in light of the greater movements typically discussed of WWII. But the other is that you get to watch the impact and consequences of all the inner workings of this period from the perspective of people who lived it as they happen.
The main story follows Elisa, an ethnically German Jewess and violinist for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The theme of music will continue throughout the series. Thus we have the stage for the opening act. While her family does not hide their Jewish heritage, and her mother is German, they have since converted to Lutheranism and have largely lived their lives as German citizens and been treated as such. This changes, of course, with the rise of Hitler and the Jews’ expulsion from Germany and, frankly, most of Europe. But Elisa is unique as her surname, changed to sound more German, and her looks help her pass as a German. Faced with the reality of Nazism and the plight of the undesirables of Europe, she has to decide what role, if any, she will play in the coming years.
There are other important characters as well, and many storylines weaving into the greater picture of WWII, both during that time and a few glimpses of life after. You mainly follow a handful of characters centered around Elisa’s life and the greater plot of the German takeover of Europe. Some characters, like Elisa, are created for the story. Each is introduced with their own histories, motives, and goals.
Through them, you visit the inner chambers of Nazi resistance, the Jewish ghettos, the destroyed lives of “impure” children, and the despair of concentration camps. You hear the voice or silence of the Church (I will admit, they don’t portray Catholics in the best light), and see the actions (or inaction) of governments and behind-the-scenes citizens across the world. You will visit Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Spain, Britain, and the US. You will learn what life was like for these exiles from Europe and the reaction of the rest of the world, a subject I’ll discuss below.
You will also meet real historical figures, or composite characters of many real people the authors could take more liberty with. Through them, the reader can engage with the real perspectives held during that time. The historical figures, however, don’t drive the central plot. They play more of a side role, though their actions are what technically drove the “world plot” of history. This story is about the real people (despite their fictional status) as they experienced the world. You get into the minds of politicians, reporters, doctors, musicians, professors, average citizens, and wonder all the while at how the world could be so blind and callous. The authors artfully weave in a compelling narrative with the characters in the world wide “plot” of events leading up to WWII.
As I mentioned before, there was a point I wanted to make about the expulsion of the Jews. I think what has been most striking to me about this story has been the US response. There is one thing to read about history, and there’s another to experience it through reading. This shouldn’t come as a shock, but reading a story, especially historical fiction, makes past events more real. It gets you in the minds of the characters; you experience what they experience. Their joy, fear, and pain are yours. There are a few characters in the third book that touched me most deeply in this way. You can’t help but see their past plight and wonder if we aren’t making the same mistakes today. If nothing else, I better see the need to change certain policies much more strongly than I did before.
Now there are a couple of issues with the writing that bugged me from time to time. As the books are written from multiple perspectives, each new perspective is marked with a little symbol in the section break. But sometimes, certain sections are unclear about whose perspective you are reading from. It appears to be from one character at the beginning, but by the end, it seems like it’s from the other character in the scene. This doesn’t happen all the time, or even most of the time. But it happened enough that I found it mildly irritating. But, it is not enough to keep me from reading.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig