The Angel Makers, by Jessica Gregson

Sari has always been an outsider in her small Hungarian village. Before World War I breaks out, she is the object of superstitious whispers and gossip. By the end of the story, however, she will be a sort of rogue heroine. Jessica Gregson’s The Angel Makers is a twisty tale of murder and mayhem. The end of this book still has me wondering about the ethical rights and wrongs of what happened in that little village.

Sari is the daughter of the táltosa healer and sort of shaman. Because of her parentage and because Sari is quiet, thoughtful, and has a piercing stare, she is followed everywhere by whispers from the other villages. Still, she manages. She keeps to herself, learning about healing from her father and the local midwife (though Judit does a lot more than just deliver babies). She even has a fiancé, Ferenc. Everything changes when Sari’s father dies and war breaks out. Most of the men leave the village, trooping off to fight on the Italian Front.

The women manage just fine on their own, though one new bride in the village misses her new husband. They’re not quite sure what to think when an officer sets up a prisoner of war camp for captured Italians. Sari holds herself aloof while the other women in the village take jobs cooking and cleaning at the camp. It isn’t long before some of those women begin affairs with the Italians. Then Sari meets Marco and finds herself falling in love with him.

When Ferenc returns from the front, Sari’s life takes a turn for the worse. The Angel Makers sees Sari facing violence and pregnancy. Her life is nothing but upheaval after the two men learn about each other. The plot races ahead through time, showing us what happens when Sari’s method of dealing with Ferenc gets out. I don’t want to give too much away about the book, but I will say that the last half of the book shows us the consequences of necessary murder becoming casual killing.

I finished The Angel Makers a few nights ago and am still thinking about it. The way the book is structured, with the first half of the book very detailed and the latter half consisting of short scenes, didn’t really work for me. The change in tone from tragic to almost farcical was jarring. And yet, I rather enjoyed the idea of women taking control of their village away from the men, even though it did get out of hand by the end. In sum, I think I have to use the word the book reviewers use when a book has good bits and bad bits; it’s uneven. Caveat lector.

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