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Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Ambassador's Daughter by Pam Jenoff

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Paris, 1919. 
The world's leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly. 
Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fianc√© she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all. 
Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie. 
Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford. 

Pam Jenoff's newest release, The Ambassador's Daughter, is one of those books that I had a hard time putting down. In fact, I'm a bit divided about this book because, even though I did truly like it, I wasn't a huge fan of the main character.

For those that have read Jenoff's The Kommandant's Girl, this newest book takes place before the events in that particular books, so you may be happy to discover that some of the characters in that novel make appearances in The Ambassador's Daughter. As someone who hasn't read the Kommandant books, I found the descriptions of those books to be a bit spoilery, since they, in effect, reveal some things about the future of the characters in The Ambassador's Daughter. So, if you're first experience reading Jenoff is The Ambassador's Daughter, DO NOT read any reviews or descriptions of the Kommandant books until you've finished and are ready to move on!

I'd categorize this novel as historical fiction with strong romance elements, as, for me, I felt like the focus was more on the history and politics. Even though I know very little about the time period, I didn't find myself getting too confused by events. I think it helped immensely that the reader sees everything through the eyes of a naive 20-year old, meaning that everything is slowed down and simplified as she reflects upon the events and situations she finds herself thrown into. I can't say for sure that everything in the novel is historically accurate, but it felt realistic and, for me, that was enough.

As noted earlier, I didn't find much to like about Margot Rosenthal. She felt quite silly to me... she was terribly naive and almost seemed to let herself fall into unfortunate situations, which she then complained about and fretted over to no end. I like my characters to take responsibility for their actions and fight for what they believe in, and I did not see Margot as this type of character at all. In the end, she finally does what I felt she should do all along, but it wasn't something she actually made the choice to do. Instead, things just worked out. Dislike! Take some initiative, Margot! I had to keep reminding myself that she is only supposed to be twenty, which is quite young, but, in my opinion, she could have used a bit more fire.

I think, because Margot felt so young and silly to me most of the time, I found her relationship with Georg Richwalder, an older man, improbable at times. In retrospect, I even found it a bit uncomfortable. It'd be one thing if I felt Margot was mature with a sensibilities that made her feel older than her twenty years, but this was not the case. I'm a bit unsure as to why Richwalder would be interested in someone who, to me, was a child. Margot's father spent much of the book trying to both support Margot while warning against the match and I can't say I disagreed with him. I felt that Margot had a lot of growing to do and that a relationship with a broken, potential alcoholic like Georg was not in her best interest.

Despite my issues with Margot, I really did love the setting and even started to take interest in the political and military scheming of the era. I developed a soft spot for the Polish musician Krysia, displaced from home and without a country. My great-grandparents came from Poland and, though I don't know near as much as I should about the country and my heritage, I couldn't help but feel a kinship with her. I was very happy to discover that Krysia is also a character in Jenoff's other novels. 

I plan to read the rest of Jenoff's novels because, though I wasn't a fan of Margot, I really did enjoy Jenoff's writing, the complexity of the plot, and the secondary characters (which, thankfully can be found in the Kommandant books!). The romance is there if you're a reader that gravitates toward that in particular, but I appreciated this book much more as a historical drama.

Harlequin MIRA, January 2013, Paperback, ISBN: 9780778315094, 336 pages.


  1. Hi Sara!
    As a fan of historical fiction, I'm curious to read it. However, I'm not really that compelled to read it right away. I love your review! You absolutely gave me all I want to know about a book before reading it. Thanks!



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