We received a copy of The Only Thing to Fear from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’m going to be honest, I struggled with this book. I really wanted to like it based on concept alone. The Only Thing to Fear takes place in an alternate time line where Germany won World War II. While the USA focused on the Manhattan Project, Germany instead was researching super soldiers also known as Anomalies. This novel takes place decades after the end of the war where the world has been divided up by the conquering countries: Germany and Japan.
Our main character Zara is a Untermensch, the scum of the Nazi Empire. In a world where racial purity is prized above anything else Zara can fit no where. Being half Japanese, the American’s despise her, calling her Kami (a derogatory name short for Kamikaze), while the Japanese and German’s see her mixed blood as tainted. Zara works as a maid at one of the Academys for the German Elite, but spends her time day dreaming about joining the rebels like her Mother and her Uncle. But that’s not all. Zara has a secret, one that could destroy her if her enemies ever found out. Zara is an Anomaly, with the ability to control air. When found out, non-German anomalies are taken to laboratories to be experimented upon. This fear of being caught has led Zara’s Uncle to be overprotective and obsessed with stopping her from joining the rebels.
Our world has a Hunger Games like set up. The territories toil in menial jobs to support the elite German society. Zara lives on a farm with her Uncle Red, just outside of a German town. Their farm is expected to produce a certain amount of food with the Nazi’s taking a quota, leaving them with barely enough to survive on. Zara has grown up surrounded by misery and horror. Her people are subjugated and repressed, those who she loves have been murdered or are dying of sickness. The Nazis have taken everything from her, and yet she is unable to fight back.
The story takes off when the Rebellion gets news that the Fuhrer is dying. Between this and a few other power shake ups the Rebellion believe that they will finally be able to pull the United States out of the Axis’s grasp. Zara finds herself caught up in the plans to assassinate the Fuhrer and send a message out to the American people to rise up.
As I mentioned before, I really wanted to like this book, even from just concept alone I was interested. But The Only Thing to Fear was mediocre at best. The pacing was off, the characters came off as wooden and the romance felt forced. Bastian is the son of a high ranking Nazi Officer and he has taken special interest in Zara. He claims that he wants to join the rebellion, and Zara is unsure whether she should believe him, he is after all the son of one of her enemies. Richmond spends a lot of time bouncing between trust and distrust in their friendship, until finally it just falls together.
The World Building in this novel is rocky. There are certain things that really work. I like all the background information that they give on the development of the Anomalies. I like how there are an elite force of anomalies, and I like Zara’s relationship with her powers. What weakens the novel is the presentation of the dystopia, there is nothing that makes it distinct from the others (Hunger Games, Divergent, Wither etc). There is some terminology, a few character and location names to tie back to the Nazi/WWII theme but other than that there is nothing that defines this world.
The book just kind of ends. I can’t really go into details on this one without going into spoilers. I’m not sure if Richmond is planning a sequel or just wants to leave her readers on the edge of a cliffhanger. Will all of our conflicts be resolved? Tune in next time? Maybe? I don’t know.
All that being said, The Only Thing to Fear does show promise. This is Richmond’s first foray into the noveling world. The Only Thing to Fear shows she has a strong grasp on setting the tone of a story. Even though this novel wasn’t for me, I would gladly pick up anything else she writes.
If you’re interested in another alternative World War II history novel I suggest you check out The Man in the High Castle By Philip K. Dick.