I have long thought 1900 an arbitrary cut-off for determining what is and what is not a historical romance since the early years of the 20th century are filled with many events and settings perfect for drama and romance. In Perfidia, Elspeth McKendrick (who also writes as Morag McKendrick Pippin) takes the unlikely setting of Nazi Germany and presents readers with a thrilling tale of adventure and passionate romance.
Following devastating revalations concerning her fiance, Sophie de Havilland fled England to live with her aunt in Berlin. Living a life sheltered from the more brutal realities of the government, Sophie initially admires what Hitler’s regime has done to improve the German economy. However, as conditions change following the invasion of Poland, Sophie begins to see more of the government’s dark side and starts to question the version of events that her friends within the SS and Gestapo have given her.
Sophie’s position becomes more precarious when her aunt chooses to flee Germany as it becomes clear that war is imminent. Sophie reluctantly allows herself to be taken in by half-American SS officer Karl von Richten. While von Richten offers a measure of safety, Sophie finds herself questioning his motives. Sophie feels attracted to von Richten, but he also seems rather mysterious and she finds herself troubled by the fact that his allegiances seem unclear.
Given his position in the SS, Karl von Richten leads a dangerous existence. In his own mind, he is quite clear on his goals and has no place in his schemes for a woman. However, he feels compelled to protect the naive Sophie and eventually, his instinct to protect begins to develop into true affection. However, his fears over what he perceives to be Sophie’s views cause him to wonder whether she is the sort of person he can truly love – or even trust with the truth about himself.
McKendrick’s story is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, she manages to evoke her setting without going overboard into the realm of history lectures or overdone slang. The author’s writing style has tightened up significantly since the publication of her first novel, and she seems to have come into her own and has developed a compelling voice with this book.
In addition, this romance shines because of the growth of its characters. The story takes place over two months and in that time, much happens as Germany commences war with its neighbors. The main characters’ development tracks these historical events believably. Just as things change rapidly in Germany, Sophie’s eyes are opened in ways that cause her to change deeply and admirably as a person. As readers, we see these changes through Karl’s eyes and see how his views about Sophie change in response. The result is a love story that is not only packed with action, but also believably complex in its emotions.
With Perfidia, readers are transported to the dangerous world of Nazi Germany and treated to a touching romance. The background is as tragic as one would expect and for some it will be difficult to read. However, the story has its hopeful moments and I am glad to have discovered this hidden treasure of a book.