This is how the publisher summarises the novel: “In the surreal and paranoid underworld of wartime Prague, fugitive lovers Felix Andel and Magdalena Ruza make some dubious alliances – with a mysterious Roman Catholic cardinal, a reckless sculptor intent on making a big political statement, and a gypsy with a risky sex life. As one by one their chances for fleeing the country collapse, the two join a plot to assassinate Hitler’s nefarious Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, Josef Goebbels. But the assassination attempt goes wildly wrong, propelling the lovers in separate directions.
Felix’s destiny is sealed at the Bone Church, a mystical pilgrimage site on the outskirts of Prague, while Magdalena is thrust even deeper into the bowels of a city that betrayed her and a homeland soon to be swallowed by the Soviets. As they emerge from the shadowy fog of World War II, and stagger into the foul haze of the Cold War, Felix and Magdalena must confront the past, and a dangerous, uncertain future.”
The Bone Church is a powerful novel that effortlessly draws together all the threads of interconnected stories that begin in World War II Czechoslovakia and cross Europe during the Cold War. It has a complex plot full of dramatic action and some heart-stopping moments, weaving together the intrigue and terror of guerrilla warfare with a post war search for lost artefacts and a daring attempt to rescue Magdalena from the clutches of a tyrannical political regime. Several action scenes were so astounding that I just shook my head in amazement – and rooted heartily for the heroes to succeed. I loved the author’s ability to imagine guerrilla warfare that is very different from the norm. How many other novels have used a frozen river and a fire engine to aid the hero’s escape?
There are also intense, heart-wrenching moments and the reader has no trouble empathising with the main characters and the poignancy of their dilemmas. Felix and Magdalena were well drawn and I felt that I knew them. Many of the characters are larger than life but real enough to tug at the reader’s heart. Felix’s gypsy friend, Srut, was one of my favourites. He and Felix are initially wary of each other but circumstances forge an unshakeable bond between them. The reader gradually discovers a caring and selflessness in Srut that is unexpected. I also liked the way the author weaves historical figures into the plot in a convincing way.
Like everything else in this book, the settings are described in vivid, often uncomfortable detail. The author doesn’t shirk from gritty descriptions of truly horrible places but also casts a spell in the reader’s mind with her descriptions of amazing places like the Bone Church.
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and only a couple things niggled at me. I would have liked a cleaner resolution. As the story closes the remaining characters’ futures are hinted at but not clearly enough for the reader to have confidence that they will find much deserved happiness in their lives. Also, although it was an integral part of the story, I was uncomfortable with the spirits who communicated with and aided Felix. They were an interesting plot device but I felt that toward the end of the story their actions became too fantastical and it pulled me out of the story.
I can easily recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys twentieth century historical fiction, a poignant romance or just a gripping story. To learn more about the author visit her website, Facebook page or Goodreads page. Information about the book can be found on its Amazon US & UK pages.
About Victoria Dougherty: She writes fiction, drama, and essays that often revolve around spies, killers, curses and destinies. Her work has been published or profiled in The New York Times, USA Today, International Herald Tribune and elsewhere. Earlier in her career, while living in Prague, she co-founded Black Box Theater, translating, producing and acting in several Czech plays. She lives with her husband and children in Charlottesville, Virginia.