“It’s the perfect moment to do it
– to kill him now and run…“
Gosia Nealon ~ The Last Sketch
Poland, 1944. Wanda Odwaga will never stop resisting. As the Nazis occupy her beloved homeland, the twenty-three-year-old artist vows to do whatever it takes to help the underground movement mobilise against Hitler’s forces. But she’s devastated when the Gestapo storms her house in search of rebel leaders, killing her heroic father and leaving the face of his murderer forever etched in her mind.
New York. Finn Keller longs to balance the scales. Having escaped Germany with his mother as a teen, he’s disgusted his estranged twin brother has become a ruthless Nazi henchman with a vicious reputation. So when a covert government agency approaches him with a dangerous undercover mission, Finn willingly risks his life to play his part in turning the tide of war.
Still grieving her unforgivable loss, Wanda’s thirst for revenge takes an unexpected leap forward when she once again encounters her father’s killer. And as Finn dives deeply into the role of impersonating his cold-hearted sibling, he’s captivated by the beautiful Polish woman frozen in front of him… her eyes blazing with the promise of murder.
I studied World War II a few times at school. However, we always looked at the rise of Hitler and the Battle of Britain; we never spent enough time looking at the ordinary people left to fight and defend their countries. This is something I love to read about, especially those resisting in secret while going about their daily lives. The recent TV series World on Fire piqued my interest in the Polish resistance and The Last Sketch provided me with additional insight into that time.
This is an excellent debut, combining a backdrop of war torn Poland, with a secret and dangerous romance that risks several lives. Gosia Nealon is a vivid storyteller and the contrast between the beautiful serenity of the parks and the crumbling, bullet riddled buildings is raw and sad. Yet the characters all have such passion and belief that readers will feel their hope and strength bursting out of the pages. However, there is plenty of brutality and the horrors of war are vividly described.
While this is a tale of enemies to lovers, Nealon has put a unique spin on it. There is mistaken identity, jealousy and a desire for revenge – themes that continue long after the war has ended. There are also several red herrings to trick the reader.
I did feel that there were too many terms of endearment used throughout and a few characters did make an abrupt exist. The Polish section of the book feels tighter somehow and flows much better; the events in the latter part of the book slightly rushed. That said, the timelines for the two sections are very different and the speed of the story in the US makes for a more dramatic conclusion.
Wanda is an excellent character. Smart, feisty and loyal, she also has a good heart and puts others first. Just minutes into the story, Wanda takes in a small boy who has been left alone. She also spends a lot of time worrying about others supporting the resistance. Her chemistry with Finn is instantly clear, yet confuses and repulses her.
Anna is a genuine and brave character, openly encouraging and welcoming Nazis, yet risking her life to support the allies. The courage and determination shown by those living in occupied Poland really is inspiring.
Gerda too is intriguing. Brainwashed by her father, her naivety is shocking; her unrequited love potentially devastating. By sharing Gerda’s perspective, Nealon makes us feel sympathy towards her; these conflicting opinions torment us throughout the book. But for Stefan we feel nothing but pure hatred and disgust.
The Last Sketch is well-researched and beautifully written, with inspirational characters, action and romance. It’s everything you could hope for in historical fiction.
I received an ARC from the Book Review Crew. All opinions my own.
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