Release date: January 26, 2016
World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.
These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.
World War II is re-imagined with women combatants in this novel – and frankly, this was the main draw for me. Normally, I avoid war-themed books because character development seems to take a backseat to action, but knowing Grant’s writing skills for explicit action, brilliant world-building and well-rounded characters (as evidenced by the BZRK series), I was eager for this one. Naturally, it didn’t disappoint and I thoroughly enjoyed how we see the war from the point of view of fresh innocents being trained into killers, but also having to face the prejudice against their gender, race or religion.
Though the story has many female soldiers, the story is focused on three girls – Rio, Rainy and Frangie – each of them with different reasons to enlist. Rio wanted revenge for her sisters death, Rainy wanted to make Germans pay for the atrocities against her fellow Jews, and Frangie because of necessity, even though she is black and faces twice as much prejudice as the other female soldiers. The story is in two parts – with their training as the first and the actual first experience of war in the second. Their characters face extreme sexism, racism and Antisemitism in the first half, and the grudgingly earn respect from at least their fellow comrades by the end of it. But whenever any other officer sees them, all they first see is that they are girls. Rio had the most transformation, and in a way the most painful realization of what war is. There is a scene where she is shooting enemy soldiers and even though it’s her duty, you can see how it troubles her to have a human life dangle at the end of her rifle. It’s shocking, and grim, this entire book. There is fear for Frangie’s fate when she gets into serious trouble, and you can also see her good heart when she places life over duty, her oath over her heart. Rainy was brilliant literally, and she proves her mettle such that one officer respectfully remarks that he finally understood why they don’t let women go to war.
While the book is entertaining from start to finish, there is the fact that it is a pretty long story too. The pace lags in the middle, and I was thinking it was going nowhere until the ending started to rise with the battle on that pass. In a way, it was not only the female characters that showed change – but also some key male characters, including some not nice ones. The language in this book is hurtful, yes, but also reflective of the times and honest to history. I would definitely pick up the next, if only to find out the identity of the mystery narrator, and the fates of our heroines.
Received a free galley from Katherine Tegen Books via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.