Have you ever been possessed by a book? I have. For almost 2 solid weeks, I spent absolutely every waking, non-working minute with my eyes firmly planted on the pages of The Bronze Horseman. When I went to sleep, I had the authors "voice" so ingrained in my mind that I was dreaming in sentences of her prose, completing the narrative with what my mind thought - hoped - would happen next. My days became motivated by what the characters would do next, and what would happen to them. The book's allure was so addictive I had to leave my Kindle at home when I went to work, in order to remove temptation completely.
I came across Paullina Simons' The Bronze Horseman by pure chance - I was simply browsing through "recommendation" blog links when the title caught my eye. (I was probably thinking that horsemen are usually associated with the apocolypse. I'm too predicatable!) Anyway, as I clicked to the page and read the summary, I became more intrigued by it's unexpected themes: The Russian Soviet side of WWII.
And then I hit a snag. The Bronze Horseman is a romance novel.
Romance?! Oh god...
Loading up some review sites to research the book, I was overwhelmed by the love people were showing The Bronze Horseman. The reviews, the innumerate five star reviews, the adoration all persuaded me to download the novel and, let me tell you, I understand now, I really do.
The second world war has just been announced in Stalin's Russia. Sixteen year old Tatiana listens to the radio announcement with her mother, father, sister, brother and two grandparents, in one of the two rooms they all share in their shared living apartment. Young, and excited by the prospect of soldiers, evacuation adventures and air raids, Tatiana is yet to understand the gravity of her imminent situation. Her father sends her out to buy food supplies without hesitation, and sends Pasha, Tatiana's twin brother, to a boys camp to save him from being enlisted. Seeing the queues for the food stores Tatiana decides there are better things to do than wait in them for a war that is 200km away from her home of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), and buys an ice cream. While she eats, a soldier sits beside her and chats. He is Alexander, and he is the catalyst for the rest of Tatiana's life: her adulthood, her heart, her strength, her loss of innocence and her loyalties.
War falls on Leningrad hard and unmercifully. Tatiana and her family cannot avoid the pains, heartbreaks and desperation of the life war introduces them to, and the reader is swept along into it with them.
The first half of this novel is completely un-put-down-able, The Bronze Horseman is unrelenting in its emotional turmoil, through all 1000 or so pages of its weight. The characters are so well crafted that despite the amount of them, you
know each one individually and you care for them. They are volatile,
unpredictable characters, flawed and then redeemed in every passing moment.
The insight to communism in the Soviet Union, Stalin, and the realities of NKVD policing, was really interesting - especially to me, who never learnt about anything more than the Tudor reign and Native American Buffalo Hunts in school history lessons... and the reality of the "Soviet way of life" is ingrained deep within the first half of the book, really aligning you with the action.
Unfortunately for me, 50 or so pages at the 62% mark (thank you Kindle, for such accuracy!) were the absolute definition of ridiculous romance novel sex fodder - it was such a u-turn from the writing that had gone before it, that it felt as if it had been transplanted from another book. Characters I had felt for, cried for, become such an annoyance I barely remembered why I cared in the first place. Descriptions of Tatiana's breasts were driving me to the point of skipping whole pages, and it was just so unrelenting in it's persistence that I should know what was happening to them, I found myself hoping for bombs, snow, the dead rising - anything - in a bid to make it stop. Luckily though, there is an end to it all, as war continues and, oh yeah, the NARRATIVE comes back. **glares at the author with "WTF?!" eyes**
**Reading tip (slight spoiler)**
I would say skip everything in Book 2 from the "first time" in the tent right up until the return to the front (unbelievably it's a whopping 10%) - You'll thank me ;)
Another slight disappointment was the character Dimitri. Threatening, self obsessed and manipulative to the last, his final act just fell a little... flat. I expected more of a catastrophe. I expected him to get even meaner, more snide and make bigger demands. He just remained pretty constant, really, and his comeuppance never quite had the satisfaction of knowing he got what he deserved. I don't know... perhaps I'm just being harsh here!
All is forgiven at the end, though, as the finale deals the final, heart wrenching blow.
Repetitive sex scenes aside, this is my final thought: Read. This. Book.
It is one of the best books I
have read in a very long time. And it's worth remembering my
intolerance to all things remotely "romance"-like as I say that! This
book made me hold my boyfriend closer than close every day. It made me
grateful, it made me desperately sad, it made me lose my
appetite through guilt, it made me cry twice before it had even reached
the half way
mark, and it made me realise how lucky we all are.
Let me know what you thought if you have read it!
communism communist front line german leningrad Paullina Simons red army romance russia second world war soldiers soviet union st petersberg stalin state the bronze horseman war wwii
The Bronze Horseman - review
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.