Disclaimer: An advance reading copy of The Soul of a Thief by Steven Hartov was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions presented in the review are my own.
The Soul of a Thief by Steven Hartov. Harlequin Publishing.
Genre: General Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: April 17, 2018
My rating: 3/5
The Soul of a Thief recounts the memoirs of young Shtefan Brandt, an SS officer during the last few of years of World War II. Brandt is plucked from an administrative position by Colonel Erich Himmel, a decorated SS war hero, and becomes Himmel’s adjutant and right-hand man. Early on the reader learns about Brandt’s genealogy and how knowledge of Brandt’s background emboldens and empowers Himmel’s power over his young protege. Gabrielle, a young French woman whose beauty is both her power and her curse, enters the scene and complicates Brandt’s situation by forcing him to reevaluate his loyalty towards his master. The story is one of love, fear, and survival, narrated from the mouth of a young man who has little power except over his own very limited choices.
The novel is written as a memoir from the voice of young Shtefan Brandt. Immediately the reader is immersed into this young man’s psyche as we view his difficulties in coming to terms with his reality. As the novel progresses Brandt progressively finds solace in the bantering between himself and his comrades, in riding his beloved stallion Blitzkrieg, and, finally, in Gabrielle. Hartov is a poetic writer whose style can sometimes lend to unnecessary wordiness, in my opinion, his greatest weakness.
“Upon reflection, I have realized that with most soldiers, acts of bravery are often reflexive responses to the crises at hand.”
Overall, The Soul of Thief is a good read. Unfortunately, the novel lacks a balance in plot—at times the plot seems to be running too slowly while the ending seemed rushed. It seemed as if most of the action occurred in the last fifteen percent of the novel, while the first eighty-five percent was a narration of Brandt’s character and the nature of his and Himmel’s relationship. The action-based plot and character development could have been more smoothly intertwined rather than written as mutually exclusive.
The historical aspect of the novel was my favourite facet of the book. I enjoyed that the novel was written from the perspective of an SS soldier since, in my experience, most novels about World War II are written from the perspective of explicit victims (such as prisoners of war) rather than victims operating on the German side. I found this was a creative and unique way to approach the memoirs, and complicated the reader’s judgement of Brandt’s actions. Further, by writing from the perspective of a victimized SS officer Brandt’s character becomes deeply complex and intricate. It becomes difficult to blindly judge the actions of the Brandt and his comrades since their personal characters are so deeply delved into.
Although I enjoyed the novel, Hartov attempted to address too many different things. War, personal development and ‘growing up’, power dynamics between superiors and subordinates and, finally, love. I found the love affairs weakened the effect of the novel. If Hartov had written only about the soldier experience with regard to fighting, comradeship, and power dynamics he could have more thoroughly fleshed out how his characters developed and how they maintained or lost their humanity. By including the element of love, Hartov spread himself too thin. The love affairs were unnecessary, but more importantly, the deflected attention away from the personal development that occurred because of the experience of war.
Overall, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in World War II or historical fiction. Readers of memoirs may or may not enjoy the novel depending on the type of memoirs they enjoy. It’s not the easiest read and requires a certain amount of focus, but it’s a good read nonetheless.
Happy reading everyone!