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Monday, June 24, 2013


A Review of K. W. Jeter's THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS

K. W. Jeter is no stranger to world building and off-beat characters. Often compared to the late, great Philip K. Dick, Jeter cut his teeth on ground-breaking sci-fi, horror and media tie-in novels, penning not only a trilogy of Star Wars tales but also Blade Runner, Star Trek and Alien Nation instalments to add to his award-winning work such NOIR, FAREWELL HORIZONTAL and DR. ADDER.

Now Jeter steps into the Berlin Noir ring and enters in style. THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is no pot-boiler, it's not an edge-of-your-seat thriller and may be the first pure Berlin Noir novel to feature a supernatural element.

The story is really three separate plot elements that later combine. Set just before the start of the war, an insular religious sect, the Lazarenes, is introduced and, like so many other religions, is being persecuted by Nazism. Their telling mark is mis-matched eye color: one brown, one blue and tattoos that represent Jesus's scars from the cross. But one Lazarene has worked around this by having his tattoos removed and a child with a non-Lazarene - the result is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed goddess named Marte.

Marte is soon enlisted in the Lebensborn breeding program and moves to what is nothing more than a brothel where pure SS men can impregnate pure Germanic women, leaving the women, and the program to raise good little Nazis free from "genetic taint". Marte does her duty, and incurs the wrath of the resident beauty who eventually winds up raising the child once Marte is kicked out of the program since her offspring has the tell-tale mis-matched eye color of the Lazarenes.

Marte soon finds herself a budding star in the German film industry where Goebbels becomes infatuated with her. Hitler won't stand for this race mixing and Goebbels is forced to let her go. And go she does, to Hollywood, where she becomes the mistress of a big shot producer. This proves to be short-lived as Goebbels soon blackmails her to return to Berlin because he is obsessed with her beauty. The war is well underway by this point and catastrophe looms. A second plot thread touches on the woman raising Marte's child. Seen mostly through photographs and film of the child growing up, this is the carrot Goebbels dangles in front of Marte to keep her in line.

Parallel to these storylines, we see Marte's cousin, Pavli and his brother, who, along with the other Lazarenes have been rounded up and sent to a concentration camp where a fanatical SS Doctor Ritter wants to "study" them to find the secret of the strange power they possess. All three plotlines become connected later in the novel.

THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS requires patient reading, it does not hit the ground running. The novel begins very slowly, building gradually as we are treated to very well-written, though often repetitive, scenes of Marte being used by the men around her as she bounces from bed to bed between Hollywood and Berlin. I'll admit this slow start initially soured me on the book, and I lost patience with it on more than one occassion, but I'm glad I stuck with it because the novel delivers.

Once the Lazarenes enter the concentration camp, a third of the way through the book, the story gathers momentum as the noose tightens around Germany. The camp scenes are harrowing and historically accurate. As someone who delved into the history of the camps for my own novel (here and here), Jeter's research is sound and he recreates the camps with all their horror. As the story picks up steam, we soon begin to learn the secret of the Lazarenes' power and the last scenes in the rubble of Berlin are a spell-binding mix of the fear, insanity, hopelessness, perseverance and tragedy of those final days of the Nazi regime.

The plot is such a delicate tapestry that it is difficult to provide more details without ruining the reading experience. THE KINGDOM OF SHADOWS is an engaging  read - one which I urge readers to stick with through the slow start as the final reading experience will be one you won't soon forget. You certainly won't be able to look at Hitler's Propaganda Minister the same way again. Jeter is an excellent writer and his handling of the characters, the history and his fantastical plot are extraordinary. Part history, part horror story, part supernatural fantasy, part character study, the novel's many levels will satisfy the most discerning reader.

The novel is currently only available as an ebook through amazon for under $5. Despite a few bumps at the outset, this is one of the best Berlin Noir novels I've read to date. Don't miss it!

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