Book Review – The Huntress by Kate Quinn

Published: 26th February 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Trigger warnings: Child death, sexual references, alcoholism

This was a buddy read with my friend, Gem (our sixth one!). We had a series of fantastic discussions and both loved the book, and the added sense of mystery made it ideal for a buddy read.

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a ‘Nazi hunter’. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow…

I have rarely come across a book that is quite so compelling as this. From the powerful and brilliantly researched subject matter, to a wide-ranging plot that is carried along by an exceptional cast of characters who all possess voluminous depth, this was a memorable read that conjured a range of themes and emotions, as well as some breathtaking imagery.

From very early on it clear that the story was to take place on a grand scale, using multiple storylines, timelines, and settings. It is suitably complex and there is inevitably a lot for the reader to have to keep in mind, but the writing totally compliments that by being truly immersive and creating an ever-present sense of atmosphere.

The prologue lays the foundation for the story and provides the context for what is to come, by introducing The Huntress. Also known as Die Jagerin, this is the moniker for a woman who shot dead a man and a group of children in cold blood next to lake in German occupied Poland in 1944. But who is she? What led to her committing such an atrocity? How will she be made to answer for her crimes?

All of those questions and more are confronted and largely resolved along the way as we journey through the book in the company of the three multi-layered, diverse, and superbly written protagonists. The chapters alternate between each of them, and their timelines more or less in turn, all in an arresting and descriptive third-person narrative.

First we have Jordan, a teenage girl from the United States with a passion for photography. Upon meeting her father’s new wife-to-be Anneliese in 1946, she suspects a dark side to her character and sets about trying to prove it. Anneliese has arrived with a young daughter called Ruth, but appears to be hiding something. That particular part of the story certainly kept me guessing!

Then, in 1950, we have Ian. A former war correspondent turned so-called Nazi hunter, Ian witnessed the shootings by Die Jagerin and is hell-bent on finding and apprehending her. Along with his assistant Tony and estranged wife Nina, we follow his attempts to track her down.

The final protagonist is Nina herself. Wild and (almost) fearless, she escapes her Siberian home and eventually becomes a pilot for the Soviet air force during the war in an all-female squad led by one of her aviation heroes – a very interesting historical aspect of the book. There, she develops a romance with one her comrades and some time later, also encounters Die Jagerin.

That is a brief overview, but those simple facts do not do the book justice. Each character’s development throughout the story is truly profound, and it is like you live the whole experience with them, such is the detail within the writing and the sense of urgency or tension that frequently arises.

I have to give a special mention to Nina. As a character, she is completely unique and a little bit crazy. By crazy, I mean an absolute maverick! There are many sides to her personality which are captured very well, and her romance was a wonderful thing to read. Meanwhile, her relationship with Ian was both unusual and sometimes amusing.

There is an ongoing sense of mystery that permeates through the book, which for me made it even more enjoyable and intriguing. Although some of the answers turned out to be much more obvious than I expected, and not absolutely everything is explained, you cannot fault the way most of the plot strands ultimately fall into place.

As mentioned before, a particular highlight of The Huntress was the characters and the amount of depth they were given. That is not just for the protagonists. There is a long list of supporting characters, but all of them are so incredibly well developed and bring something meaningful to the story.

The settings vary widely in conjunction with the three timelines, yet they feel very real and atmospheric. Full of foreboding, Lake Rusalka is treated almost like a character. We then have the oppressiveness of Siberia and the air force base, all of which contrasts sharply with the relative sanctuary of Boston.

Despite it being a long book, there was never a time where I lost interest or felt it began to drag. The plot remained gripping, and as each character’s storyline took shape, the writing just became increasingly strong. Some might say the ending was slightly too convenient, but considering all the sadness that occurs before, I found it quite fitting.

Overall, this is a book that contains something of everything, from strong and well developed characters, to multiple timelines, to romance, and a fascinating mystery. It is an extraordinary ride that takes the reader to all kinds of different places, and that is what makes it a remarkable book.

Kate Quinn obtained two degrees in Classical Voice from Boston University before going on to become an author of historical fiction. Her first six novels focused on ancient and renaissance Italian history, but more recently she has turned her hand to the 20th century.

Her previous novel, The Alice Network, received widespread acclaim and along with The Huntress, was translated into multiple languages. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

This book had been on my radar for some time and I’m so glad to have finally read it. From start to finish, it is immensely compelling.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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