I chose this book after reading a review from MabisMab and I feel a bit mean giving this book 3 stars. If you asked me how good it is compared to most romance novels, I’d probably have given it a 4, maybe even a 5, but I felt so let down by the second half after the amazing first half that my disappointment means that I can’t honestly give it an “I really liked it” rating.
The story opens at the beginning of Russia’s entry into the Second World War, with Germany’s invasion, where we meet Tatiana. Barely out of school, young and carefree, she’s oblivious to the dangers threatened by war and the effect it could have on her extended family, who share a cramped two rooms in Leningrad. Before long, Tatiana is plunged into war – not just the national war with the Germans, who are fast advancing on Leningrad, but with herself and her family when she meets Alexander, a soldier she falls in love with, who also has ties to her elder sister.
I’ve never been to Russia, but I have worked with a Russian team professionally for an extended period, and I’d say that the writer seems to have captured certain turns of phrase and other aspects that give the story a strong sense of place. There are constant descriptions of food that add to this, as well as playing a strong role in the story to come as the plot progresses.
Most of the characters are well written, though one or two are a bit cardboard-steroetypical, but the main players are Tatiana, her sister Dasha and Alexander, the soldier. In particular, the relationship between Tatiana and Dasha is authentic and endearing. Anyone who has a sister will recognise the love-hate relationship we have with our siblings and the constant bickering that hides the affection underneath.
The story arc in the first half is well structured. The domestic and national action intertwines carefully without it feeling like the plot hangs purely on outside factors and Tatiana’s growth as a character as she matures from schoolgirl to woman in her own right is very rewarding to read.
However, in the second half, things start to go downhill. There’s such a pronounced gap between the two halves that I suspect there may have been plans to publish them as separate books entirely – it feels as if the second half was written some time after the first and like the author was trying to pad it out (which oddly was the opposite of what I found in The Gift of Rain, which I reviewed a couple of months ago!)
Some of the characters seem to undergo personality changes that the polite might attribute to the stresses of war, but seem plain unrealistic to me. Alexander changes from kind, gentle, caring to terse, rude and quite controlling, with only one thing on his mind! It’s clear that the author intends this part of the novel to be very romantic, but to be honest, his behaviour leans more towards domestic abuse than romance in my opinion! This makes it laughable when at one point he accuses Tatiana of always being the one in control!
The ending for me was a let down. I’ve since found out that there’s a sequel, so perhaps the author was trying to make it obvious to the reader that the story wasn’t finished, but I couldn’t help but feel that after everything all the characters had been through, the grand finale ended up going out with a whimper rather than a bang, and not even a temporary sense of closure in terms of action or emotion.
This could have been a great book if only it hadn’t run out of steam. Still worth a read for the first half, but probably best recommended for Twilight fans looking for a fix with a historical element.