Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Rules in Rome by A.L. Sowards

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 2, 2015

With Hitler’s forces firmly entrenched in Europe, countless heroes seek to end the madman’s reign. Bastien Ley is one of the best. Working in Italy for the Office of Strategic Services, he’s been tasked with sabotaging German convoys. When his team kills an officer headed for Rome, the man’s similarity to Bastien is undeniable, and seeing an opportunity to turn the tide of the war, Bastien makes a bold decision: he will assume the dead officer’s identity. He becomes Dietrich, an Iron Cross–wearing German officer—an ideal position from which to infiltrate the Nazi ranks in Rome. To help with his stressful assignment, his superiors send him a reinforcement in the form of the lovely Gracie Begni, an intelligent and eager radio operator with absolutely no undercover experience. With a gulf of resentment between them, these two agents must find a way to portray a couple in love. Soon their reluctant alliance becomes much more as Bastien and Gracie find themselves getting lost in their feelings for each other. But as they engage in battle against the deadliest foe the world has ever known, the pair quickly realizes their love may be doomed. As the Rome Gestapo threatens to destroy all they’ve worked for, will Bastien and Gracie survive their charade?

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To say I was excited when A.L. Sowards The Rules in Rome appeared in the Netgalley catalog is something of an understatement. I'd been eyeing the author's work for a while and was positively giddy when my request to review the novel was approved. I began reading it almost immediately and was pleased to discover my enthusiasm wasn't misplaced. The action and historic detail in the narrative impressed me so much that I actually reached out to author A.L. Sowards about hosting an interview before finishing the book, but looking back, I think what stands out the most is how different the novel feels in comparison to others of my experience. 

Most of the WWII fiction I've encountered takes place in England, France, Germany, Poland, Austria and Belgium, but Sowards chose Italy for the backdrop of her story and I found myself very intrigued by her decision to venture into territory that is less commonly portrayed. I wont deny that Belinda Alexandra's Tuscan Rose had more atmospheric and cultural detail, but Sowards' effort was easily more cohesive and engaging and I think that is why I appreciated her so much more than that of her predecessor. 

I admit there were elements of the book that felt somewhat coincidental, but the author created enough situational drama that I didn't feel things like Bastien's physical resemblance to Adalard Dietrich detrimental to the narrative. I found it curious tha0t the reader is afforded more face time with Gracie than Bastien and wish there'd been more balance between Sowards' leads, but here again, I don't feel the small disparity had any adverse affect on the finished publication.

My interest in the novel begins and ends with the history incorporated in its premise. The love story was harder for me to get into, but I think fans of wartime romance will really enjoy the emotional hurdles Bastien and Grace face. The story is clean in terms of language and explicit intimacy, but it is war era fiction and Sowards doesn't shy away from demonstrating the dangers of covert espionage with moments of extreme tension and deadly violence.

The politics of the novel are presented in light to moderate terms and are very easy to understand. Sowards kept this aspect straightforward enough that those with limited comprehension of events don't feel overwhelmed by the material which is nice as it is very easy to cripple a good story with heavy-handed description of fact. 

Bottom line, The Rules in Rome proved a quick and captivating diversion. Lightly religious, inventive and energetic. 

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Bastien had almost gotten used to the idea of working with Gracie until yesterday’s fiasco. Now he was certain Vaughn-Harris had thought up the whole thing as one more shot at revenge. It wasn’t right for Vaughn-Harris to try to get Bastien killed and risk the information he collected, nor was it fair for Gracie to be thrown into a mission she wasn’t ready for.
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