Kate Quinn’s new novel The Huntress lives up to the hype. I couldn’t put this book down and read much too late for too many nights! It is well-researched historical fiction, and I learned something new about Russia’s role during World War 2. Russia had female bombing pilots dubbed The Night Witches by German soldiers. One of the main characters is a Nazi hunter who was a Night Witch. Nina Markova steals the show in this story! She is tough as nails and is a very wounded soul. Being born and raised in eastern Siberia by an alcoholic abusive father gave her the survivor skills which enabled her to be the only person known to escape being killed by the Huntress, Lorelei Vogt, aka Anneliese Weber, aka Anna McBride. Nina’s part is to identify the Huntress when Ian and Tony locate her. The Huntress is a composite character based on two real Nazi women who were tried for crimes following the war.
But I get ahead of myself. It’s the 1950s, and many in the western world thought the Nuremberg trials took care of enough Nazi war crimes. The new fear was Stalin and communism. Yet to Ian Graham, it was not enough. He is tracking the Huntress because she executed his younger brother after he escaped a Nazi POW labor camp. It’s personal for Ian, and it becomes personal for Tony Rodomovsky, his partner and translater. Tony recruits Nina to help them only to discover there is weird history between Ian and Nina. Their relationship offers some hilarious moments in the story.
So how does Lorelei Vogt become Anna McBride? To sum it up, she marries an antiques dealer Dan McBride in Boston as an attempt to disappear and become untraceable. This would have probably worked except Dan’s teenage daughter Jordan intuits that things are not as they seem with her new stepmother. Thus begins Jordan’s snooping around and discovering some information about the new Mrs. McBride. What complicates this relationship is the woman shows up with a young “daughter” name Ruth who is obviously fearful of her “mother.” Jordan, who is an only child falls in love with Ruth and is determined to protect her. What further complicates this relationship is that Anna is a good mother to Jordan who lost her biological mother at a young age. Jordan struggles with her conflicting emotions about Anna. And the reader does too. I wanted Anna not to be the Huntress because I kind of liked her even though she certainly was a mysterious character who obviously was hiding something.
Kate Quinn weaves these story lines together seamlessly. There are two strong female protagonists and a strong female antagonist. Quinn does a good job fleshing out these female characters. They are as different as they can be, and yet all three of them are fully developed. I wanted more about Nina- hopefully she’ll show up in some capacity in a future book of Quinn’s.
The true story of Night Witches is a fascinating aspect of this book. From 1942-1945, the Night Witches flew 23,000 sorties, dropped 3000 tons of bombs and 26,000 tons of incendiary shells. The small wooden/canvas planes originally built for training and crop dusting could only carry two bombs at a time so the pilots flew 8+ missions every night. The pilots also dropped ammo and supplies to Soviet troops on the front line. The little planes were hard to shot down by German bombers because they were slow and beneath the stall speed of the German planes. The Russian pilots would cut their engines and glide to their targets. The German soldiers thought the planes sounded like brooms sweeping across a floor, hence the name Night Witches. Two heroes of this regiment, Major Marina Raskova and Major Yevdokiya Bershanskaya were portrayed in the story. Twenty six of the pilots were awarded the highest military medals in the USSR following the war. Be sure and read The Author’s Notes at the end of the book before starting so that you recognize what a great research Quinn did.