Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reich by Donald Allen Kirch (REVIEW)

A year after Hitler committed suicide, a rather cliched message-in-a-bottle was found on the beach in Copenhagen, suggesting he actually died U-boat collision that winter. Donald Allen Kirch's WWI vampire thriller, Reich, takes this obscure bit of WWII history and runs with it, adding a monstrous twist to the interesting alternate history scenario.

Hitler has been called a monster before, but never quite like this. In Kirch's tale, he is an old-fashioned vampire - supernatural, demonic, and unrepentantly evil. In public, he puts on a good face, hiding his true nature from the world, yet allowing it to drive his political ambitions. Outside the public eye, however, he lets his monstrous self loose, including yellow eyes, elongated fangs, a thirst for blood, and garygoyle-like wings protruding from his back.

The bulk of the story revolves around Hitler's secret passage to Norway aboard a German U-boat. As if life aboard a WWII submarine weren't dark, claustrophobic, and dangerous enough, imagine being trapped under the ocean with a hungry monster. What makes for such an interesting story, however, is the way in which Kirch portrays the German soldiers. He starts the story with a high-ranking soldier who sacrifices his life in an attempt to assassinate the F├╝hrer, and then carries it through with a U-boat captain whose first loyalty is to his country and his people, pairing him with a second-in-command who believes in Hitler's propaganda, but who is a good man at-heart.

The story develops slowly, with only a few glimpses of real horror, allowing the characters (and their conflicted loyalties) to carry the story. Meyer is a heroic figure from the start, and Starger develops nicely throughout the story. Add in a Norwegian clergyman, Donavon, and his daughter, and you have all the ingredients for a good vampire hunt to end the story - complete with a climactic battle aboard the Nauecilus.

Alternately creepy and thrilling, this was a far stronger story than I expected, and one that does justice to the novelty of the concept.

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