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 harbours dark secrets anddangerous 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 Paris where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But returning to Berlin means a life with the wounded fiancé she hardly knows any more.
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.

RFHL Classifications

Romantic Historical Fiction – post WW1

Heat level – 1 (not even that, really!)

Review rating – 3 stars

Review by Caz

I tend to prefer to read historical fiction set before the twentieth century, but as I’m very interested in the events of the First World War, I was intrigued by the premise of this story, which takes place in 1919, shortly after the armistice.
Professor Rosenthal is a respected academic who has been asked to attend the peace negotiations in Versailles. His daughter, twenty-year-old Margot, accompanies him; principally because she does not want to go home to Berlin where her wounded fiancé awaits her.

Jenoff does a good job in creating the atmosphere of post-war Paris, but I had hoped there would be a little more historical insight especially about the drawing up of the famous treaty and its likely effects. And while I did enjoy the story, I have to admit that it was hard going for the first 50 or 60 pages. The narration is first person in the present tense, which is not a favourite with me; I frequently find it limiting and in this case, as Margot is quite a solitary person, there is a lot of description and not much happening. But the story begins to pick up once Margot becomes acquainted with Krysia, a Polish musician who encourages her to think about who she is and what she wants – and Captain Georg Richwalder, the young German naval officer who gives her a job.

Margot is very naïve and frequently seemed to be drifting from one mistake to the next without asserting any control over her life. She has allowed herself to become engaged to a man she has known since childhood but does not love mostly because she feared the disappointment she would cause to others by saying ‘no’. When she finds real love with Georg, she is too weak to break off her engagement (although as it turns out, it’s more complicated than that). Because of a careless word in the wrong place, she opens herself up to blackmail by what she believes to be a Communist group that wants her to pass on the information she is able to acquire about the German military through her work with Georg.

There was real potential in the story and in the premise – especially given that the central characters were German and having to deal with the way they were perceived after the war, with how their world was changing and with the terrible problems of poverty and anarchy that were rife throughout their country. There was a thread touching on Margot’s identity as a Jew and her discomfort with the move towards assimilation being taken by some members of her family, but neither issue was fully examined.

In fact, there are many different plot strands weaving in and out, but few of them are fully explored or developed. We discover that Margot’s father has deceived her about her mother; her friend Krysta also deceives her; Margot lies to Stefan and to Georg; there is the fact that Margot is Jewish, yet by the end of the book Georg is beginning to sympathise more and more with the National Socialists. To have dealt with all these strands satisfactorily would perhaps have required a longer book; or that the author had tried to cram less into this one.

There were a lot of anachronisms, too. For instance, there is a reference to women having stopped wearing crinolines ‘recently’ and to ambulances having ‘sirens’ (surely they would have had bells?) There are a lot of expressions that feel too modern and those oft-used Americanisms, “fall” and “sidewalk”. Then there is the fact that Georg, while suffering from pneumonia is up and about a mere couple of days after being taken to hospital, and Margot’s father is sent home a few days after having had a heart attack.

Having said all that, however, I didn’t hate the book. I dislike the wasted potential, but even as I was noting what I perceived to be problems, I was intrigued by the story and wanted to know how things would turn out. In fact, I have discovered since reading it, that The Ambassador’s Daughter is a prequel to one of Jenoff’s earlier novels – The Kommandant’s Girl, and despite the reservations I have expressed here, I have decided to read it at some point.

By the end of this book, Margot is finally beginning to stand on her own, and the story is open-ended – will she return to Germany and to Georg or will she make a life for herself elsewhere without him?

Overall then, I have mixed feelings about this novel. Would I recommend it? If you’re looking for a fairly quick read set in a time period which is not often featured in romantic HF and are in a forgiving mood, then yes. But if you want something that is meatier when it comes to the historical detail, then this is perhaps not the book for you.

With thanks to Harlequin/Mira and NetGalley for the review copy.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too.

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