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Monday, June 01, 2020

The Prisoner's Wife: Unique Premise, Ho-Hum Execution

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Without the intervention of World War II, Izabela would never have met Bill King.  At 20 years old, she is stuck on the family farm in Czechoslovakia helping her mother while her father and older brother are fighting with the Resistance.  As much as Izzy wants to do her part for her country, she can't leave what's left of her family to fend for itself.  When a Nazi officer offers to help the women with the harvest by bringing in a group of British POW's, Bill is among the workers.  Although he's skin and bones, the gunner from London catches Izzy's eye because of his ready smile and his obvious passion for music.  He's attracted to her, too, and soon the unlikely couple is meeting in the barn for clandestine cuddles.  

When Izzy and Bill decide to marry secretly and run away together, defying both the Nazis and Izzy's mother, they set themselves on a dangerous path.  Only days after their union, they're captured and thrown into a large POW camp in Poland.  Dressed in her brother's old clothes, Izzy is hiding in plain sight, desperate not to be revealed as a woman or a Czech.  If thought to be a spy, she would be shot on sight.  Determined to protect his new wife at all costs, Bill enlists his trusted comrades to help keep her safe.  Not all of the POW's can be relied on, however, and when push comes to shove, it's up to Izzy and Bill to save themselves ...

I've read a lot of World War II novels and I've never come across another with the premise that lies at the heart of The Prisoner's Wife, a debut novel by British poet Maggie Brookes.  Although the tale purports to be based on a true story, the details of the "real" Izzy and Bill are so vague that their story's veracity is very much in question.  Regardless, it's an intriguing idea that should have led to a tense, nail-biter of a novel.  Turns out, The Prisoner's Wife is really not all that exciting.  Most of the story takes place inside the camp or on work details where the POWs are starved, but not in immediate danger of much more than dying of boredom.  Despite a few conflicts here and there, it wasn't until the characters were enduring the Long March at the end of the book that I really worried about their survival.  Beyond that, the plot is episodic and rather dull, especially in its very saggy middle.  While Brookes succeeds at creating a strong feeling of friendship and camaraderie between Izzy, Bill, and the other POWs, Izzy and Bill never feel very well-developed as individuals or as a couple.  Although she's described as a spitfire on numerous occasions, Izzy spends the majority of the novel content to let the men protect her, without taking any risks of her own.  I kept waiting for her to do something and she just ... doesn't.  It's not even until the end of the story that she really makes sacrifices for anyone other than herself.  Likewise, her hasty marriage is based way more on lust than love, making her fight to remain with Bill seem unrealistic.  All things considered, then, I didn't end up loving The Prisoner's Wife.  I'm still intrigued by its premise, but its ho-hum execution made the book way too easy to put down.  Although I did end up finishing it, the read left me feeling less than satisfied.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of every other World War II concentration camp novel I've read) 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, blood/gore, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Prisoner's Wife from the generous folks at Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).  Thank you!


  1. Oh, no. Ho-hum and dull are not words you want to have to use to describe a book like this. That's too bad.

  2. This is definitely a different type of WWII story and I'm sorry to read that it doesn't really work. Perhaps it's too unbelievable or perhaps just not well enough done.

  3. I think I'm finally burned out on WWII fiction. Seems there are at least half a dozen new ones every month, and now they are all starting to run together in my mind.

    This one's plot did sound promising, but if the writing is just mediocre, I'll pass.


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