I received a free copy of this book to review. However, the following review is my honest opinion.
Stalin would protect them. The Soviet Union would never fall. That is what Natasha wants to believe. And she does–until the Nazis march into Kiev to eat all their food, squat in their homes and generally lay waste to the Ukranian capital.
Being a feisty old lady (old ladies are the scariest people, I swear), Natasha’s grandmother decides to take a stand against a Nazi soldier. Bad idea. Pissed off, the German is about to kill them both when he is shot to death before their eyes. By a soldier. A Hungarian soldier named Mark.
Natasha is stunned by this act of kindness from someone who is supposed to be an enemy. The more she gets to know Mark, the more she realises how good and kind he is. In her head, she knows she can’t afford to get too close, but that doesn’t stop her pulse from racing whenever they meet.
When Soviet women seen fraternising with Germans are stoned by their own people, Natasha knows she’s risking a lot more than just a broken heart. And when her neighbours start disappearing, she wonders if she and her family can even stay alive.
This blurb was written by me. For the author’s own description of this book, see the book’s Amazon page.
The Quills: 7.5/10
The wait was finally over. The enemy was no longer at the gates. Surrounded by crowds of confused men, women and children and accompanied by barking dogs, the enemy were right there, inside their city, their grey uniforms a perfect fit, their green helmets sparkling, their moterbikes roaring, their footsteps echoing in the tranquil autumn air.
It was Friday, the ninteenth of September, 1941.
– Lana Kortchik, Savaged Lands
Savaged Lands is a historical romance narrated in third person by Natasha. If there is such a thing as a light romance, I would say this is it. This doesn’t have the slow, heady burn of a historical romance spanning years. Instead, Natasha and Mark moments are sweet and desperate. (And sometimes a little corny.) But I guess sweet and desperate is what you get when there’s a war going on.
This is an adult book, but the content isn’t so graphic that I’d tell older YA readers to shy away from it. Certainly, I’ve read more graphic young adult books. Ones with more disturbing love affairs too.
The tone is powerful, touching, haunting and devastating. Where appropriate, of course. There are a few quirks and stumbles when it comes to writing: a few awkward phrases here and there, a few extraneous words. No biggie. There is an odd stylistic choice made: the (somewhat-but-not-super-explicit) love scenes are in present tense, while the rest of the book is in past tense. This choice disconnects the scene from the rest of the book, so it felt distinctly odd to read.
This novel starts off slowly, but once the Germans set foot in Kiev, it really gets going. The pacing (after the Germans arrive) is great. Even though the novel spans several years, it seems neither hurried nor slow.
Though it seems odd to say this of a relatively short book, the world building and characterisation are impeccable. The characterisation is subtle, bringing the characters to life gradually and naturally. And to life they came. The characters are passionate, scared, selfish, playful, and are round like real people tend to be. Some of the side characters could have used more work, but thus is the fate of side characters.
The world is so well-crafted, I could smell the smoke from the bombed out residences. I could feel the muddy snow, turned to ice overnight, crunching under my feet. I could feel the characters’ fear, despair, their desperate yearning for hope. And I could see their glassy, hopeless eyes as they sat, begging for scraps, on the side of the street.
This novel is well-researched and brings everything a historical novel needs.
The Roses: 9/10
This is a really special book. I know there are lots of stories based on WW2, but the story of Natasha and her family really touches my heart. The world and the characters drew me in; they were so real, I was practically there. This was all done without delving too far into the gruesome details too, which is a plus for those of us who don’t want to read about detailed gore.The writing quirks did throw me off once or twice, but they weren’t anything major. The writing gets progressively better as you go along; once you tough it out for the first few pages, you’re golden.
I loved the fact that this book was about the entire family, not just some girl and her love story. I mean, love stories are great and all, but the way her family reacts to the events and their individual coping mechanisms are captivating.
This novel didn’t make me cry, but I was holding my breath when the Germans issued orders to gather the Jewish population. And when the Jews politely complied, I wanted to take them by the shoulders and shake them hard, yelling, “It’s a trap!”
A final, barely on-topic note: I am so happy that the measurements were in the metric system. I actually knew how cold it was when they said -20 C.
Conclusion: Savaged Lands is a beautifully crafted, well-researched war story that will touch your heart. If you’re into that sort of thing, why aren’t you reading it now? No, seriously. Go read it now.