It’s 1919 and twenty-year-old Margot Rosenthal has accompanied her father, a German diplomat, to Paris for the Peace Conference that has been arranged following the end of the First World War. At first Margot is unhappy in the French capital – even though the war is over, she and her father are still thought of by the Allies as ‘the enemy’, while their Jewish background means they are viewed with suspicion by their fellow Germans – but the alternative is to return to Berlin, where her wounded fiancé Stefan awaits. Margot had agreed to marry Stefan before he went away to fight in the war, but now that he is back she’s no longer sure whether she wants to go ahead with the wedding.
Life in Paris becomes more interesting for Margot when she makes two new friends. One is Georg Richwalder, a former naval officer who has arrived with the German delegation; the other is Krysia Smok, a Polish pianist who introduces her to a group of political activists. When one of Krysia’s radical friends starts to put pressure on Margot to obtain information on Germany’s plans from Georg, suddenly Stefan and the wedding seem the least of her problems!
The Ambassador’s Daughter is a prequel to The Kommandant’s Girl and The Diplomat’s Wife, neither of which I have read, but that didn’t matter at all as this one works as a standalone novel. In fact, I suspect it’s probably better to start with this book anyway as it comes first chronologically. I do wish authors and publishers would move away from ‘wife’ and ‘daughter’ titles (which I discussed in one of my Historical Musings posts), but this series was written before that seemed to become such a popular trend, so I can be more forgiving!
Although I have read a lot of novels set during and just after World War I, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything specifically about the Paris Peace Conference, so I found that aspect of the book interesting. The German delegation was kept on the sidelines during the negotiations and excluded from decision-making, not being officially called to the conference until the details of the treaty had already been agreed upon. Because the Germans played such a minor role in all of this, it doesn’t form a big part of the novel, but I think Jenoff does a good job of showing how frustrating it was for diplomats such as Margot’s father to be kept out of making the important decisions that would affect their own country’s future.
The espionage element of the story is also well done, as we wait to see whether Margot will really betray Georg and Germany – and if so, whether she will be caught? However, a twist that comes near the end of the book is very obvious and because I had predicted it so quickly, it took away some of the suspense. The main focus of the novel, though, is not the conference or the spying, but Margot’s personal story and her relationships with Georg and Stefan, so if you’re not interested in romance, this probably isn’t the book for you. Overall, I found it quite enjoyable, but I’m not sure whether I would read anything else by Pam Jenoff – although I was intrigued by the character of Krysia and it seems she also appears in The Kommandant’s Girl, so maybe I could be tempted.