Wednesday, January 31, 2018

TLC Book Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pub. Date: January 2nd, 2018
Pages: 400


Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding.

Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband’s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.

First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin’s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.

As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband’s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war—each with their own unique share of challenges.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

What Did I Think About the Story?

With historical fiction it's so hard to find an angle that doesn't feel somewhat overdone, especially when it comes to WWII.  While I would continue enjoying historical fiction regardless of how many novels I read with similar storylines, it's great to find something fresh and different. The Women in the Castle is unlike any other historical fiction novel I've read before, giving me a new perspective (or three!) from which to view this heartbreaking time in history.

Most WWII fiction I've read has been from the point of view of the Allies. This is the first novel that I can think of that I've read from the point of view of German women and resisters from varying backgrounds.  Marianne is the rich, strong-willed wife of a murdered resistance fighter who keeps true to everything they always believed in no matter what she has to face. Benita, a girl from humble beginnings who dreamed of and succeeded in marrying a rich, charming man and living a life of luxury, ends up sacrificing so much of herself, not only to survive but in her attempts to try and forget the past and grasp on to any shred of happiness she can find. Ania, the most pragmatic of the women, will do anything to protect her sons and give them the chance at a better life than they were born into, even if that means keeping secrets and lying to those she cares about. Through the heads, hearts, and eyes of each of these women we get the chance to see a wider range of German people - from resisters to collaborators, those with power and influence to those who have nothing - and it was heartbreaking to see these women stuck in the middle of a brutal and unforgiving world that they had no part in building.

I was also impressed with how well the author brought this horrible world to life. The descriptions of the bombed out villages and smoldering remains, the starving and/or bitter people trying to survive, even the happy, more prosperous moments that perfectly contrasted with the rest all did their part to drive home this singular time in history and the good and the bad that came out of it.

On top of all this the author included a great author's note and P.S. section that explains the origins of the story as well as an additional chapter not included in the hardcover version that better fills in a part of Ania's backstory, centered around the bombing of Dresden. These extra goodies are always the  icing on the cake, especially with a story such as this that is so easy to get emotionally invested in.

The Women in the Castle has already made it onto my "best of" list for 2018! It's historical fiction at it's finest, shining light on a new (for me) angle of history that not only entertains but teaches us something as well. It's about the guilt of a nation and of individuals and the complicated battle between what can be deemed as forgivable, understandable, and forever contemptible. If you enjoy historical fiction make sure to put this one on your TBR pile!

What Did I Think About the Cover?

I think it's very pretty, with it's hazy soft focus, but it doesn't really evoke anything for me. Pretty but not very descriptive or representative of the story.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Thank you to TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins for a free copy of The Women in the Castle in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine alone. Continue on below for more information about the book, it's author, and the rest of the blog tour!

Praise for The Women in the Castle

GoodReads Choice Awards Semifinalist

“Moving . . . a plot that surprises and devastates.”—New York Times Book Review

“A masterful epic.”—People magazine

“Mesmerizing . . . The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras.”—USA Today

Buy the Book

About the Author

Photo by Lesley Unruh
Jessica Shattuck is the New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle, The Hazards of Good Breeding, a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, and Wired, among other publications.

Find out more about Jessica at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

TLC Book Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 9th: A Bookish Way of Life

Monday, January 15th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Tuesday, January 16th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World

Friday, January 19th: History from a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, January 22nd: BookNAround

Wednesday, January 31st: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.

Wednesday, January 31st: A Literary Vacation

Monday, February 5th: Instagram: @_literary_dreamer_

Wednesday, February 7th: Instagram: @Novelmombooks and Novel Mom

Thursday, February 8th: Write – Read – Life

Monday, February 12th: Jessicamap Reviews

TBD: 5 Minutes For Books


  1. Like you I've read a ton of books about WWII but this one does sound very different and I'm excited to read it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    1. Oh my gosh, I hope you love it when you read it! Thanks for letting me be a part of the tour!