My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wars are often won, not by superior weaponry or force, although those play a considerable role, of course, but by often overlooked and unseen factors such as climate or disease. Napoleon’s assault on Russia was turned back by the dual cudgels of subzero temperatures and an outbreak of typhoid among his troops, not by the Russian army. During World War II, the Nazis tried to create these unseen advantages for themselves, not waiting for fate to intervene, but carrying out systematic medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners aimed at improving their soldiers, creating new weapons, and otherwise generally exploring the limits of the human condition and what could be done to improve it for their chosen people. Fortunately for the world, these experiments were largely unsuccessful, and did not provide the needed edge that would have pushed the Nazis to victory against the allied forces.
But what if they had? In “The Only Thing to Fear”, by Caroline Tung Richmond, not only were the Nazi experiments with genetic manipulation successful at creating a race of genetically modified super soldiers, but the addition of these super soldiers to the melee of the war turned the tide in favor of the Nazis and their allies, allowing them to win the war, conquer North America along with much of the rest of the world, and carve it up among themselves. In this modified version of the present, 16-year old Zara lives a marginalized life under Nazi rule for two reasons: first, her mother, now dead, was a member of the resistance killed in an attack on the Nazi oppressors; and second, her father, who she has never met, was a Japanese soldier. This guarantees that she will be treated as subhuman by the Nazis for being a “mischling” or of mixed racial stock, but also that she will be reviled by her fellow oppressed Americans for being the daughter of one of the oppressors, the Japanese being the ruling oppressors of the western half of the United States.
Zara wants nothing more than to fight back like her mother did, and she thinks she can do it, because in a world where possessing a genetically mutated ability as a non-nazi is punishable by death, Zara is one of the few who have managed to successfully hide her ability from the Nazis. But is she ready to take them on?
This book was a stunning debut, and had me hooked from the very first page. The vision of a world in which the Nazis prevailed was a chilling reminder of what the Great Generation fought to preserve in World War II and the dangers of absolute power concentrated in the hands of the ruthless and ideologically twisted. Great for fans of dystopian futures, as well as fans of the superhero genre, action adventures, or even books about the holocaust.