I have had the privilege of reading this book in successive drafts, and it has only gotten better.
Based on the story of the Women’s Battalion of Death in WWI Russia, it follows Katya, an officer’s daughter who volunteers for the regiment. Amber Lough, the author, is a veteran of the Iraq War and writes clear, compelling battle sequences as well as fleshing out the characters so that their travails break your heart. The friendship between Katya and her buddy Masha, as well as Katya’s relationship with her deserter brother Maxim, stands out as extremely well done, and the historical figure of the regiment’s leader and founder, Maria Bochkareva, becomes a compelling character as well. I had a few quibbles with some of the political setting in terms of the Russian Revolution (as usual, not enough screen-time for non-Bolshevik socialists), but the character of Sergei, a Bolshevik activist who wants Katya to desert for both personal and political reasons, was also very well done.
The ending and the last line broke my heart, as they should have.
I had issues with the book recommendations at the end–Richard Pipes wrote the single worst book on the revolution that I have had the misfortune of reading, and it is recommended here–but Lough’s research is strong. Katya’s political confusion is realistic for the era and her age, although I wasn’t quite sold on some of her contradictory actions.
I want a sequel very badly but also can’t bear the thought of these characters living through the brutal Russian Civil War, so I would say Lough did a great job in both telling a compelling story and attaching me to the characters.