I'm going to start with a disclaimer that I'm a huge, unabashed and hopelessly addicted fan of historically accurate lesbian romances. I'd snap up in an instant any halfway decent book that gets published in this teeny, tiny sub-genre of lesfic. So tiny that the only consistent producer of it that I know of is Justine Saracen.
The author has a distinctive style. Expect high adventure (since she has a particular fascination with women in wars, it often turns out to be misadventure ;)). Expect historical figures (or religious/mythological ones, when she strays into religion) to figure into the story. Expect our leading ladies being dropped into the thick of the action in actual historical events. And best of all, expect a happy ending. I worship a couple of historical fics (Code Name Verity and The Nightingale) because they are just so damn well-written, but alas, I could never bring myself to re-read them, because..well, they broke my heart! And while I appreciate a good, one-week cry (yep, the books were that good!), the idea of going through that again and again... my heart couldn't take it. Anyway...I'm digressing. So, the bottom line is, Saracen will put the lead characters through the wringer, both physical and emotional (but especially physical!). She'll do everything humanly (and inhumanly) possible to break them, torture them, starve them, and basically, whatever crazy people actually did to women before. But no matter how bleak and how desperate it becomes, she's gonna pull back from the brink and pull out a HEA from her rabbit's hat of tricks. It's a comfort and safety I trust in. Sort of like being a helplessly tied-up sub in a bdsm scene...lol.
So...how's the book? Typical Saracen. If you know her style. More action than introspection. Some name-dropping, or more accurately, encounters with historical figures from the past. The fun there is trying to figure out who's fact and who's fiction...without cheating with google or turning to her usual glossary at the end. As always, it's a fascinating, 'what would they have been like close-up', behind-the-scenes look at famous names. In this aspect, the book is a departure from the usual Saracen because she goes all-out. Unlike her previous plots where her lead characters move in relatively obscure circles and occasionally encounter a big name, the author placed the main character Mia Kramer, right smack into the inner circle of wartime US President FDR, and dropped her thick into wartime negotiations with the Soviets. So she has close encounters with three world leaders (FDR, Stalin, Churchill), a feisty first lady (Eleanor) and her bff, and some other White House insiders. It's a daring plot, no doubt. The initial setup could have been done better. But I grew to love how she connected the incredibly tricky and convoluted dots. Not all of it worked flawlessly. Some eye-roll moments and the occasional plot hole. But overall, it was a wild and wonderful way to bring Mia from the inner sanctums of power AND then throw her into the trenches with the lowliest troops. It's a huge stretch that was both fantastical yet plausible. And the journey both ways made for really entertaining theater, not to mention a fascinating historical trip back in time to one of Russia's darkest moments. Throw in the bonus love story and I'm in lesfic heaven.
Mia Kramer is one of a number of Russian immigrants who, upon reaching the shores of the US before the war, had their names changed to Americanized versions. She's an accountant by profession. Bored in her shoe company job and hardly able to stand her domineering father and an ill-advised affair with a married woman, Mia high-tails it out of town and goes for where all the action is: Washington DC. Volunteering for FDR's campaign gets her a toehold into the sanctums of power. But it's her Russian-speaking skills that ultimately land her the big gig, being assistant to FDR's negotiator with the Russians. Her trips with him to Russia brings her into visual contact with a gorgeous and alluring Stalin guard, the epitome of a classic Russian beauty. Mia can only admire from afar, of course. But an unfortunate turn of events (fortunate for us!) for Mia finds the two stuck in some of the worst and certainly deadliest moments in Russian times. The rest, as they say, is history....
I'm not as big a fan of history as I am a fan of reading about the people behind the headlines. Even in high school, the footnotes about historical figures always made far more interesting reading for me than the text itself. Saracen takes her research into little known events about big people, and big events involving little people, and weaves these magical tales around them. And it all feels so real because they're grounded in reality--they actually happened...to someone, to maybe a number of people. But they did happen. And that's what I love most about Saracen's books. This one fits the bill perfectly, if you're looking for a realistic look at a dark and largely forgotten time in Russian history, about some amazing women who went through hell (and maybe a few who made it back to talk about it), but can't be bothered to pick up a history book or wouldn't know where to look. There's action galore, politics, intrigues, some romance, and lots of amazing women snipers.
Reviewed by Allison Never