Open Fire – Amber Lough

Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 7.40.32 PMI 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.

 

2020 YA Titles Not To Miss!

Here’s a look at some of the YA books I’m most looking forward to in 2020.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.58.46 PM1. Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
After A Girl Like That, the story of an Indian half-Parsi orphan growing up in Saudi Arabia, I will read anything Bhathena writes. This Indian-inspired epic fantasy dealing with class and politics looks like a lot of fun.

2. Open Fire by Amber Lough
I had the privilege of reading a draft of this take on the Women’s Battalion of Death, a Russian Revolution-era all-female military unit. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to meet patriotic-but-increasingly-conflicted Katya and follow her journey in WWI.

3. Queen of Coin and Whispers by Helen CorcoranScreen Shot 2019-10-04 at 3.59.32 PM
This fantasy novel from a debut Irish author features a romance between an idealistic new queen and her female spymaster, as well as plenty of political intrigue.

4. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
A fantasy retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” tying it to the the dancing plague in 15th century Strasbourg and the persecution of the Romani people. Sounds super interesting, and McLemore’s previous work, though I haven’t read it, is highly praised.

5. All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor
We (for values of we that mean Americans of my generation) all read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry growing up. I’ve always wondered what happened to Cassie and her brothers and friends after The Road to Memphis, and now we finally get answers in this story of grown-up Cassie in the Civil Rights Movement.

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 4.00.52 PM6. The Silence of Bones by June Hur
A teenage girl in 1800’s Korea is an indentured servant working for a police detective. Together, they investigate the murder of a noblewoman. This one certainly has a unique setting and premise! I don’t think I’ve read any YA set in Korea before the Japanese occupation.

Upcoming novel about the Women’s Battalion of Death

I wasn’t a huge fan of Amber Lough’s debut novel The Fire Wish, a Middle Eastern-set fantasy novel which I found pedestrian. However, in interviews, she’s revealed the topic of an upcoming book, and it couldn’t be more fascinating.

Though they’re less famous than their WWII sisters, a number of Russian women fought in WWI under the Provisional Government (the government that came after the revolution but before the Bolsheviks). They even had their own units, including the above mentioned Women’s Battalion of Death (“of death” meaning they had sworn not to surrender).

The first woman to serve in the Russian armed forces was Maria Bochkareva, whose story you can read about here.

Anyway, Amber Lough is writing a novel about the female soldiers of WWI Russia. She’s a vet herself, which raises my expectations for the book.

Can’t wait to find out title, release date, etc.