Saturday, July 19, 2014
Review: The Bone Church by Victoria Dougherty
The Bone Church
by Victoria Dougherty
Release Date: April 15th, 2014
2014 Pier's Court Press
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Virtual Book Tour
3.5 / 5 Stars
In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels. But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions.
Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future.
The Bone Church is one of those novels where I really struggled over how to write this review. It's one of those novels that I really wanted to love, but the fact is, I didn't. It's not that I didn't like, as there were many elements in it that I thoroughly enjoyed, but overall, when I liked at how it pieced itself together, I just couldn't admit to myself that I was satisfied with it.
There were a lot of great elements to The Bone Church though. This is an area I know very well as I teach it in secondary school so I was quite happy to immerse myself in the historical details and the atmosphere of the times and just let the novel take me where it was going to take me. The novel was well-written and it definitely gave the reader a good sense of the oppression the Czechoslovakian people faced both during and after World War II, by differing countries. I liked the innuendos made by the author to the Resistance groups that existed and to the illegal trade markets that were happening as well as to the sneaky way she had of mentioning these things. I'm not sure if someone who was unfamiliar with this time period though, would have picked up on these double entendres and innuendos as someone who is very familiar them. The author did have a tendency to assume that the reader was well-versed with certain aspects of the time period as well as with a lot of Catholic traditions, both of which I am, but I'm not sure someone without that knowledge would have understood some of it. On the other hand, coming right out and talking about it would have taken away from the atmosphere of the times; the fear of betrayal, the oppression, the fear of one's neighbour, and so on. Just the downright fear that existed during this time period.
The story did move rather quickly, and there was a lot of action, both of which had their good points and their not so good points. I did find the beginning rather confusing and I had to re-read the first two chapters in order to get a sense of the style of writing before continuing on with the novel. After that it was fine, and the two differing story lines, at differing times, didn't bother me too much. It was pretty clear when and where things were happening. What I did find confusing was the why. So much was going on, and although I grasped the main reason for all of this, I kept thinking there was going to be some major twist somewhere as to the real reason all of this action was happening and it never did. And I felt somewhat let down. And while I felt emotionally invested in the characters during the World War II part of the novel, I didn't feel the same way about them later so their later problems didn't affect me the same way and I was kind of indifferent to the resolution of the novel, which I thought was a let down anyways. And I have to admit that the supernatural element was never really explained and just didn't belong in this novel, or if it was because of what I think it should have been (spoiler if I talk about it), there definitely should have been more build up of that aspect of the Catholic church and the role it plays in the Czechoslovakian people's life. I'll leave it at that.
The Bone Church was a decent novel about the Czechoslovakian people during World War II and the after-effects when the Russians moved in to take control. I thought the descriptions of the time period and the atmosphere were very well-researched and were great, showing an oppressed and desperate people hiding a lively, fighting spirit. I did feel that some of the innuendos behind some of the things were too much for people not familiar with the time period, especially those to do with the Infant Jesus of Prague (Church of Our Lady of Victory), where thousands come every year for hope and healing. I did feel somewhat cheated as I felt liked the novel came up short in some areas; for example, I would have liked to have learned more about the lives of Felix and Magdalena after they were separated and how they came to be where they were and doing what they were doing. Only little hints and vague remarks were given. I did feel like there were major gaps and I really wanted to know what was going on. However, that being said, I would definitely read another novel by this author as I enjoyed the characters, and her descriptions were very well done.