The Last Waltz, Book 1 in the saga, won the Best Historical Fiction Whitney Award.
This epic novel set in Austria and Germany, starting in 1913 and ending in 1938, drew me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s the story of Amalia Faulhaber, a young Viennese woman with aristocratic connections. (Her grandmother is the daughter of a count, though the rest of her family are middle class.) Grandmother’s connection to society got Amalia engaged to a young German baron, Eberhard von Waldburg. The story begins with Eberhard choosing his Prussian duty as a warrior over his love for Amalia. He breaks the engagement and informs her he’s going back to Germany to prepare for the glorious war that is to come. In shock, Amalia wanders around the city in a snowstorm and ends up in a coffee house where she meets the charming but impoverished Polish doctor, Andrzej Zaleski. About the same time she meets the wealthy and estimable Baron Rudolf von Schoenenburg, a friend of her uncle. Amalia adores her uncle, an idealistic socialist who lives simply while directing the charities that give his considerable inheritance to the poor. The baron plays an important part in the second half of the book.
Soon, she and Andrzej are in love, but her decision to not tell him of her broken engagement causes problems later. Devastated, she travels to Berlin to reconcile with Eberhard. They marry shortly before World War I breaks out. Amalia’s troubles are just beginning.
Through Amalia’s eyes, Vandagriff shows the toll WWI took on the German and Austrian people, as well as the devastating consequences of the post-war period. The threat from German Fascism becomes real in the last section of the story, and Amalia is forced to flee her beloved Austria.
I loved this book, and on finishing, immediately started to read Exile, Book 2 in the saga, wherein Amalia and her family travel to England to tell what they know about Hitler to Winston Churchill and end up ferreting out German spies. Book 3, Defiance, takes place during the Battle of Britain. While The Last Waltz is an epic spanning twenty years, Exile and Defiance cover shorter periods of time and are more action-oriented and exciting. I enjoyed all three of the books and highly recommend the saga to lovers of historical fiction.