Shadowboxing is set in Berlin, 1943. Kristopher Lehrer is from a well-known German family. He is a scientist, involved in a secret bomb-making project. Naïvely, Kristopher has assumed this bomb will be of benefit, not only to Germany, but other countries as well and it is not until his Jewish friend disappears that he questions his father’s Nazi ideas. When Kristopher is involved in the death of the project’s head scientist, he is forced to run from the Gestapo with the plans for the bomb, protected by Resistance member, Michel.
Although Michel and Kristopher are Shadowboxing’s protagonists, Anne Barwell also introduces a mixed-race group of men whose mission it is to retrieve the plans, now held by Kristopher, and return them to London. Thus, their lives become entwined with Kristopher and Michel’s and the chances of danger increases.
This story is the first I have read set in World War II that is not about the Holocaust or British soldiers fighting in trenches. Yet, Shadowboxing perfectly captures the atmosphere of fear in Berlin and the cruelty of the Gestapo – even towards their fellow Germans. I think the fact that Kristopher and Michel’s romance takes place in this time only makes it all the more sweet. While homosexuality was considered to be a deviant behavior by the Nazis, the relationship provides both characters with hope.
Shadowboxing is a story full of emotions, but it is not sexually explicit. This reminds the reader of Michel and Kristopher’s innocence and their need to keep their love a secret. I thought the fade to black scenes worked perfectly in the context of the novel.
Despite the majority of Barwell’s characters being male, she does not ignore the courage of the women involved in the war, in particular Clara, Elise, the nuns, and Juliane. They are just as much part of Shadowboxing as Matt, Michel, Kristopher, and Holm are and it is the women who play vital roles in the men’s survival. I did find that because there is such a cast of characters in Shadowboxing, I would forget who was who and their backstory, particularly in the case of the small Resistance group. I was also a little baffled by later developments between two of these men.
Shadowboxing is a thought-provoking novel that is insightful in the way it addresses several issues about the control of the Nazis and the war. Kristopher and Michel’s romance never feels out of place and the fast-paced story mesmerizes the reader. I would recommend Shadowboxing to those who enjoy historical romances and interwoven plots.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.