I used to hate history. It was my least favorite subject. It was boring. Today, I read through historical novels like they are my sustenance and I can't get enough. What's the difference? Historical fiction tends to do a wonderful job of teaching you something about the past while creating a story worth reading. They capture your hearts (with loveable characters) and your minds (with flawless plots) and don't let them go.
The Book of Lost Names is one of these amazing historical fictions.
This book is becoming increasingly popular as people read it and realize it is more than they could have imagined. I put a hold on this book(desperate to read it) in September of 2021. I recently received it in mid-February 2022. Was the wait worth it?
Absolutely! I finished the book in less than 2 days. I skipped dinner to finish it, eating the words of the book instead. I even went on to read The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel because I was desperate for more where this came from (The Winemaker's Wife is not nearly as good if you were wondering).
In Book of Lost Names, Harmel creates characters you are in love with from the very first page. Each of the characters has flaws but not so much that you don't root for them all the way through. They are 100% believable and make you question "Is this a real story?"
But the characters aren't all Harmel creates. She has a stunning plot that keeps you on your toes the whole way through. Her double POV (one in the future and one in the past) gives you a look into what happened to her protagonist and directs the plot but things are never spoiled so much that you don't get surprised by the plot twists. Unlike in The Winemaker's Wife, the majority of The Book of Lost Names is set in the past and only small portions of the novel (I'd say no more than 10-15 short chapters) show the future.
There were also at least two (if not more) plot twists that came out of nowhere for me. I didn't see them at all. I mention this all the time but I love books with a plot twist I don't see coming. It is often hard for books to surprise me at this point so when they do, I am overjoyed. Harmel's book always had a consistency to it. I never had plot whiplash.
In The Rose Code, the story is entirely like real life. The book takes you in a number of different directions because that's what life is like. Though the present timeline pulls it together a little bit, the story doesn't often feel as though it is all connected by one thread.
Not the case for Book of Lost Names. While the book does take many different directions, it all feels connected. It is real life and a novel at the same time which is what Historical Fiction should be. Plus, the history is spot on. Harmel draws from real-life forgery techniques of the time, includes references to real-life forgers, and owns the real "Book of Lost Names" which she uses to ensure the words mentioned as being on the pages are correct.
One of my favorite things about the plot, though, is the way she surprises you. Harmel tended to tell you outright that something wouldn't happen before later, having it occur.
Example of what I mean: I think I am getting a bike for my birthday. My father tells me I'm not. My mother tells me I'm not. I finally get to my birthday and receive a small package. It's too small to be a bike (I guess I'm not getting a bike). But there's a message in the package directing me to the garage. And there, in the garage is my sparkling new bike.
Harmel did this a number of times so that I thought I knew what was happening, decided I was wrong, then suddenly the thing I originally thought would happen does happen. I loved it.
Congratulations Kristin Harmel for a stunning book worth hundreds of awards. I would read it over and over again for sure. I highly suggest The Book of Lost Names to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and strong female protagonists. It is a book you won't want to miss.