If you’re a fan of Christian historical fiction, we highly encourage you to check out our review of Renee Ryan’s latest novel: “The Secret Society of Salzburg.” Beautifully weaving together a compelling narrative with thought-provoking themes and spiritual insights, all set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Europe, this is a novel that is sure to inspire and excite readers—and keep them on the edge of their seats.
To what lengths would you go to stand against injustice?
Would you engage in lies and deceit for a worthy cause—perhaps even to save lives?
If your efforts to fight darkness impacted only one life, would it still be worth it?
These questions are haunting and heavy. And as believers living within the context of relative peace, we don’t often have to consider them deeply. But in times and places where war, conflict, and injustice are rife—these questions demand answers.
And it’s these questions that Renee Ryan, award-winning author of nearly 30 books, dives into in a powerful way in her new novel, “The Secret Society of Salzburg.”
“The Secret Society of Salzburg” is a riveting Christian historical fiction novel, which tells the story of an unlikely friendship amidst tumultuous times and the great lengths to which brave souls will go in order to fight for the lives and dignity of others.
The story—set in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s—introduces us to American opera singer Elsa Mayer-Braun and English typist Hattie Featherstone. Through their mutual love of the arts, they strike up an extraordinary friendship that soon turns into a dangerous alliance.
As they continue to witness the horrific atrocities committed by the Nazi party, Elsa and Hattie come up with a daring plan to rescue Jews from Nazi persecution. Their efforts are noble, and their work is dangerous. Yet their courage, bravery, and trust in the Lord carry them through the grim realities and devastating situations that came with living through the decades before and during the dark days of World War II.
With genius storytelling and a compelling narrative, Renee Ryan paints a deep and captivating portrait of each character while simultaneously weaving in magnetic and intricate details about the political and cultural climate of World War II Europe that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Her words take the reader on a journey through the war-torn streets of Europe and illuminate the complex feelings that the characters are enduring amidst their struggles. The novel contains everything you would hope to find in a story: love, heartbreak, deception, conflict, and purpose—all leading toward an unexpected ending.
Renee Ryan is more than just a captivating storyteller, however. Through the story of Elsa and Hattie, she introduces powerful themes and urges the reader to reflect upon some of the most complex questions relating to spirituality and life.
Who is God in the midst of utter darkness?
Is He still in control? Is He still good?
Nestled within the very first pages of the book—before the story even begins—is a Bible verse that many of us would likely recognize. The verse is a quote from Joseph to his brothers, pointing to the Lord’s sovereignty even amid their evil intentions: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
This verse is the beginning strand of a thread that runs like a through-line through the rest of the novel. Clearly ingrained in the book, and in the character’s minds, is a deep abiding trust in the Lord’s sovereignty over all things and His commitment to bring redemption to all things.
This understanding—layered over the incredibly dark and difficult realities of Nazi reign—gives the reader a robust look at how to truly trust God in all situations. The characters’ deep faith in the Lord’s is clear, and their trust in His presence and plan gives the reader encouragement that they can carry with them in all seasons.
“But now, here, alone on this platform full of strangers, and armed soldiers all around, Hattie shut her eyes and prayed for God’s presence. Peace that transcended all understanding filled her” (page 275).
“God was ultimately in control. Good would prevail” (page 68).
LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF DARKNESS
One of the dominating themes throughout the novel is the idea of bringing light to the darkness. It is hard to think of a cultural situation darker than that of Nazi-occupied Europe, but this is where Renee takes the reader, and in doing so, reveals the beauty of art and the power of God in the midst of darkness.
Renee Ryan doesn’t gloss over the darkness and injustice in her storytelling. Rather, she bravely engages with the realities of the historical period and challenges the reader to go to a difficult place with her to engage with the questions and tensions that emerge.
The power of art is an interesting theme throughout the novel as Elsa and Hattie explore their artistic talents and consider what difference beauty can make in the midst of even the most hopeless situations. This concept, repeated throughout the book, presses the reader to consider how they might use their own God-given gifts to bring beauty to areas of darkness around them as well.
Over and over again, even as they face terrifying decisions and heartbreaking realities, Renee’s characters reaffirm their belief that God will somehow and truly redeem all things:
“Hattie lifted up a prayer to God. She prayed that right would win over wrong, that good would overcome evil, that lives would not be lost” (page 301).
The characters’ commitments to display courage in the face of injustice, to bring the beauty of art amidst brokenness, and to make a stand in the face of danger will inspire the reader to live in a way that brings light to the areas of darkness in their own world.
TAKE THE NEXT STEP
If you love the idea of reading compelling historical fiction intermingled with thought-provoking spiritual insight, I guarantee you will not regret adding this novel to your wish list. As you dive into the story, you will find yourself aching with the characters’ hurts, rooting for their noble efforts, and praying alongside them that God would somehow bring redemption to the darkness they face.
To read “The Secret Society of Salzburg” for yourself, you can purchase the book at the link below.
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