Creatures of Charm and Hunger, by Molly Tanzer

There’s a trope about how the Nazis might have won the war if they’d been able to create the atomic bomb or another similar weapon, but I’ve never seen it deployed the way Molly Tanzer uses it in Creatures of Charm and Hunger. This novel inhabits the world Tanzer created in Creatures of Will and Temper, then expanded in Creatures of Want and Ruin. The magic continues in what I think might be the best book of the trilogy. Tanzer takes that trope, blends it with the stories of two teenaged girls who are desperate to grow up—only to realize that the price is higher than they want to pay.

Creatures of Charm and Hunger begins near the end of World War II. This world still has diabolists—people who make pacts with supernatural creatures for power. Jane and Miriam are apprentices, both working towards being fully-fledged masters but for different reasons. Jane hopes that mastery will let her literally fly around the world and explore. Miriam believes that more power will help her find out if her parents (the family is Jewish) are safe. Meanwhile, Jane’s mother, Nancy, does her best to apply the brakes to the girls’ too-rapid progress while Jane’s aunt, Edith, does her best to use her diabolist powers to thwart the Nazis.

One might think that the aunt’s diabolical spying would be the focal point of Creatures of Charm and Hunger. I certainly thought so. I was even annoyed a bit, initially, at the early parts of the book that described Jane and Miriam’s schooling. But the novel quickly won me over. Before too long, I was hooked on Miriam’s incredible efforts to try and find her parents and Jane’s equally gutsy attempts to fly. The stakes kept rising and the girl’s ingenuity matched it and the conclusion to this book completely blew me away.

What made me love this book was the way that it showed different sides of sacrifice. Edith’s sacrifice—literally fighting Nazis to keep them from fulfilling their plans—is easy to understand. There’s no question that she’s doing the right thing, even though she’s risking her life. Nancy’s sacrifice is more subtle; it’s also less complete than her sisters. On the one hand, motherhood is a sacrifice. On the other, Nancy has set things up so that she lives exactly the kind of life she wants as she raises her daughter and shelters Miriam. Sacrifice is still present in Jane and Miriam’s stories but, because we’re in the midst of their stories, it’s harder to see if the girls are really making sacrifices—or if they’re paying a really big price to get what they wanted in the first place. It’s only when we get to the end of the book that we see them make their decisions.

The books in this series have gotten better and better. I thought Creatures of Will and Temper was a little bit slow, although I loved the ideas in it. The plot in the second book, Creatures of Will and Ruin, was anything but slow. It was a fantastic adventure. Creatures of Charm and Hunger moves at the perfect pace. There’s adventure and emotional depth. I really did love this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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