March 2, 2013

Book 9: The Second Son

The Second Son
Jonathan Rabb

Set several years after the events of Shadow and Light, The Second Son concludes the Nikolai Hoffner trilogy. Like its predecessors, the book places its hero at the center of Europe's interwar troubles, this time taking place in Nazi-era Germany and revolutionary Spain; like its immediate predecessor, it tries just a bit too hard to shoehorn a plot into a vibrant setting. Hoffner remains a vividly drawn protagonist, affected by his prior adventures and aged not only by the passage of time but also by his sons' diverging political paths: one is enmeshed in revolutionary Barcelona, while the other (thought part Jewish) is entranced by- and close to- the rising Nazi elite. It is this entanglement that provides the novel with its emotional core, and the brutality of Rabb's plot mirrors that of the historical setting as Hoffner's life spirals into chaos (alongside much of Europe). This book is more introspective than the previous Hoffner novels, and as a result Rabb's efforts to integrate his fictional story with actual historical events are a bit less clumsy, though there are quite a few convenient encounters and celebrity cameos that are alternately charming and intrusive. The chronological gap between Shadow and Light and The Second Son also detracts from the novel's raw power; though Hoffner retains a consistent personality, one feels that there's quite a bit left unsaid, which draws the reader out of the narrative and calls attention to the conceit that is always the slightest bit noticeable, despite Rabb's best efforts. All told, however, The Second Son provides a fitting conclusion to the saga of Nikolai Hoffner as the Europe he belonged in thrashes in its death throes.

Grade: B+