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Kingdom of Shadows: A Novel Hardcover – January 16, 2001

4.1 out of 5 stars 170 customer reviews
Book 6 of 12 in the Night Soldiers Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Penzler Pick, January 2001: The thrillers of Alan Furst usually take place in the dark days preceding World War II, but while the main participants in that war are of course portrayed, Britain, France, Germany, and the United States do not usually star in Furst's novels. He prefers instead to focus his stories on the citizens of those countries whose allegiances and roles in that particular theater of operations are much more contradictory and conflicted.

Kingdom of Shadows is set in Paris during 1938 and 1939. It is unclear at that time what the fate of Hungary will be if Hitler has his way, but a small group of expatriates would like to insure that events turn out in their country's favor. Nicholas Morath is an Hungarian aristocrat who fought bravely in the Great War. He is now part owner of an advertising agency in Paris, while his uncle, Count Janos Polanyi, is a minor diplomat stationed in Paris. Polanyi calls on Nicholas to take part in missions against the Hungarian Fascists: carrying letters or bringing individuals back across the border in the course of his business trips.

As Nicholas's dinner parties, business deals, and dalliances with his mistress start to take a back seat to the escalating crisis in Europe, his tasks become more complicated, dangerous, and bewildering to him. He knows far less than the reader, who understands that his actions will have far-reaching consequences even beyond the fate of Hungary. Nicholas just does what he can without the luxury of historic hindsight.

Furst has fashioned here an elegant gem that vividly portrays the city of Paris during the last peaceful days of 1938 and the menace of Hitler's ambitions in the Sudetenland and beyond. Nicholas Morath is a charismatic and sympathetic figure who will come to understand, as the war progresses, the consequences, both good and bad, of his smallest actions during that turbulent time. --Otto Penzler

From Publishers Weekly

The desperation of "stateless" people trying to escape the Nazi redrawing of the European map in the late 1930s pervades Furst's (Night Soldiers; Red Gold, etc.) marvelous sixth espionage thriller. On a rainy night in 1938, the train from Budapest pulls into Paris bearing Nicholas Morath, a playboy Hungarian expatriate and sometime spy for his uncle, a wealthy Hungarian diplomat based in the French capital. Morath, a veteran hero of the Great War and a Parisian for many years, now finds himself forced to rely on former enemies to try to rescue Eastern European fugitives displaced by Hitler's aggression. His eclectic circle includes a Russian gangster, a pair of destitute but affable near-tramps, and a smooth-talking SS officer. Smuggling forged passports, military intelligence documents and cash through imminent war zones, Morath time and again returns in thankless triumph to the glittering salons of Paris. Furst expertly weaves Morath's apparently unconnected assignments into the web of a crucial 11th-hour international conspiracy to topple Hitler before all-out war engulfs Europe again, counterbalancing scenes of fascist-inspired chaos with the sounds, smells and anxieties of a world dancing on the edge of apocalypse. The novel is more than just a cloak-and-dagger thrill ride; it is a time machine, transporting readers directly into the dread period just before Europe plunged into its great Wagnerian g tterd mmerung. This is Furst's best book since The Polish Officer, and in it he proves himself once again a master of literary espionage. (Jan. 19)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st U.S. ed edition (January 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375503374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503375
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Nicholas Morath, a wealthy Hungarian diplomat residing for years in France experiences the early years of WW2 as he quickly becomes involved in espionage against a rising tide of Nazi aggression directed toward his homeland. Furst makes good use of the railway system across Europe to evoke some great scenes as Morath travels to and from eastern Europe. A aspect of this novel that I liked is that Furst returns to the lesser known peoples and places of Europe in the late 30's, and does so to great effect. This book is probably the best one Furst has written since "The Polish Officer".

Although this novel can easily be read as a stand-alone book, some readers will enjoy beginning their foray into Furst's world with "Night Soldiers", his original and possibly best spy novel. This book introduces several characters who make appearances throughout Furst's other novels set in the same period of time and general geographical local. Because of this fact, I highly recommend reading this novel first, although those that follow can typically be read in any particular order (the exception being the stories involving Jean Casson - World at Night and Red Gold).

What makes Furst's loosely structured series so compelling is that 1; they are very well researched and historical very accurate, especially with regard to spy craft - as I understand it through academic experience only. 2; the characters are extremely flawed, very believable and interesting to empathize with - all of the characters and their adventures provoke much thought. 3; the novels do not attempt to achieve a false sense of conclusion at their end - they always allow the reader to decide for him/herself what happens, and they rarely resolve the feeling of tension that pervades Furst's works.
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By A Customer on January 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Kingdom of Shadows is further proof that Alan Furst has no equal among historical novelists. As he did in World at Night and Red Gold with Jean Casson, Furst's protagonist, Morath, is cast into the pre-WWII spy game almost by accident. But unlike Casson, Morath is less reluctant in accepting his new life of duplicity. Furst once again transports the reader squarely into those dark and uncertain times. Although we know the outcome of WWII, that knowledge is suspended during the read, such is Furst's ability to bring to life the true emotions of the time. Rich in detail (I always learn so much from Furst novels)and characters, this may be his finest effort yet. Considering his past work--especially Dark Star and Night Soldiers--that is high praise indeed. Bravo, Mr. Furst!
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Format: Paperback
Nicholas Morath is a minor Hungarian noble living a comfortable, but not quite ostentatious, life in pre WWII Paris. It seems that he has been content with running a small advertising firm and living the cafe life with a young and vivacious Argentian mistress. But this is 1938 and dark clouds are brewing in Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland etc. Morath is called to run various errands for his tight-lipped uncle Polanyi, a true to life Hungarian count. The book chronicles these errands which become ever more dangerous.
The outstanding features of this book are severalfold. The dialogues are crisp, clean and believable. The characters are quirky but nicely sketched. Furst creates a very believable atmosphere of pre-war Europe. Everyone knows that war is coming, yet people still need to live their lives. Thus there is still a cafe society and the titled ex-pats still throw lavish parties. Meanwhile, poorer immigrants running from tyranny barely scratch out a living. Furst delivers his character to many interesting locations that are not prevelant in American fiction. Morath travels through the countryside of Hungary, Roumania and Czechoslavakia meeting up with Poles, Ukranians, Croats. One minute Morath is eating a grand banqet in an elegant eastern European chateau--the next he finds himself chained in a dank Roumanian prison.
Then there are the intrigues that Morath finds himself immersed in upon the bidding of his uncle. Morath never quite knows what the endgame is. Who is pulling the strings. How do his missions fit in the overall scheme. Therefore, the reader is also left guessing. Other reviewers have sited this as a weakness--I, on the other hand, view this as the great strength of the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Alan Furst's new novel is, in one word, delicious. Sleek and elegant, it captures pre-World War II Paris and Eastern Europe pitch-perfect, with so much attention to detail and culture that the reader is plunged into the dark alleys and deep forests of Morath's world. The driving plot never misses a beat, and both dialogue and description are clever, true to character (of both the protagonists and of the land), and occasionally very beautiful in a tense, dark, film-noir way.
I didn't exactly warm to Morath -- there was a disappointing lack of character development, as some other reviewers have noted, and in my opinion he never really stepped off the pages into three dimensions (the same for many other characters, except for a few notable members of the supporting cast). It's why I felt this book merited four stars instead of five.
But the real show lies in Furst's masterful evocation of a world; his descriptions lend rich texture and depth to the story, speeding it up, adding to its tension, rather than bogging it down. His language allows us to board the swaying night trains racing from Paris to Budapest, lets us see the sparkle of a Cartier bracelet or the flicker of a Russian nightclub show, takes us into the cool gardens of expatriate Magyar nobility, thrusts us into the heart-pounding panic of a struggle in a Czech forest. From luxury cars to old rum and Imperial medals to the details of chic outfits and romantic pulp novels, the skittish decadence and danger of Morath's existence pervades every page of this thrilling, stylish, extremely enjoyable read.
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