Beth Bridgewater, a German American, finds herself in a nightmare as World War II erupts—a war in which she takes no side, for she is a Quaker pacifist. Just as she gains opportunity to escape Germany, Beth decides to stay to help the helpless. Meanwhile, Josef Buch, a passionately patriot German, is becoming involved in his own secret ways of resisting the Nazis. . . . Despite their differences, Beth and Josef join together in nonviolent resistance—and in love. Does their love stand a chance. . .if they even survive at all?A bit of a change from my usual reads I decided to pick up All God's Children due to my longstanding interest in Second World War History. I do seem to be picking up a lot of alternative reads to my usual romances at the moment, don't worry I'll be back on track soon!
Firstly, the blurb on the back of the novel was a bit misleading. I thought we'd get a nice build-up to Nazi Germany instead we're thrown in in 1942, three years after the outbreak of war and nine since the beginning of the Nazi regime. Nevertheless, Schmidt does a good job of quickly sketching out the details of life in Germany at the time without overloading the reader with information that they're more than likely to already have. However, it's not just here that Schmidt seems to skip a couple of steps.
All God's Children was billed as a romance and I have to say that I would really disagree with this. Yes, there is a romantic relationship between our two main characters, however, it does not fulfil the usual romance novel criteria. Beth and Josef's relationship comes to a head fairly quickly with only a few bumps along the road to show any real development. I don't necessarily think that there is anything wrong with that, just that it is not indicative of a romance novel. I would be much happier categorising Schmidt's novel as historical fiction with a central love story. How diplomatic of me.
One aspect of the book that I was a bit concerned about, and that I should imagine would make a lot of readers wary, was the Quaker element. Now, I am not adverse to reading books with a religious aspect but I wasn't sure how prominent this would be, Anna Schmidt's previous novels have actually been Amish Romances. I found that while the Quaker element is somewhat dominant in the novel I don't think that it had a negative impact. A lot of Beth's actions are dictated by her beliefs and several other of the characters in the novel are of the same persuasion which maybe strengthens their relationships a bit prematurely for most readers. In the end I found I quite enjoyed learning a bit more about Quakers and the Society of Friends, I think that Schmidt found the right balance between instruction and preaching and kept the religious elements of the book central to the characters and their motivations.
I found Beth an interesting heroine. Schmidt clearly maps out and rationalises her thought processes and resulting actions, however, I could never really get behind her as a character and constantly found her naive and wilful. Josef was a stereotypical hero, loyal, brave and unflinching. Personally I found Josef's journey throughout the novel much more interesting, he's gradual disenchantment and inner turmoil over the fate of his homeland was skilfully executed by Schmidt.
For me the novel falls down when it comes to pacing and the overarching plot. Despite setting her novel during one of the most turbulent times in recent memory Schmidt never really takes full advantage of the possible tension that the period could offer. Beth and Josef experience a lot throughout the novel and manage to get themselves into some pretty tense situations, however, I never felt captivated enough to really feel any concern about their fate and found some of the more 'action-y' sequences a little sedate. The historical detail is almost dealt with in a perfunctory manner, which is a shame given the potential the period offers. The novel also seems to end rather abruptly and [SPOILER] before the conclusion of the war which left me somewhat mystified and disatisfied. It was only when reading the postscript that I discovered that All God's Children is in fact the first in a trilogy and that several loose story lines will be tied up in the following novels.
If romance is what you're looking for then I don't think that I would be too quick to recommend All God's Children. However, if you like historical fiction and are looking for something around this period I think that Schmidt has crafted a fairly good novel; although perhaps not the best if you want something a bit richer to illuminate experiences of life in Nazi Germany.
*ARC received from NetGalley in return for an honest review.