Title: Death Steppe
Author: Judy Bruce
Genre: World War Two Fiction, Historical Fiction
This World War II novel takes place in 1944, during Germany’s retreat from the western Soviet Union. The story follows the lives of a Russian war widow, Elena, a dissident, Christian, and black marketeer, as she serves as a medic on the front lines, and a disillusioned German lieutenant, Halder, a former professor and concentration camp officer, as he fights in a losing effort. In time, Elena and others, are forced into service as temporary navigators in an all-female regiment to the Red Army air force. After Elena’s plane crashes, she finds the injured Halder from the squadron she helped bomb. As enemies, the injured Elena and Halder alternate between helping and nearly killing each other. Eventually, the desperate soldiers discover an unexpected bond. Together they embark on a turbulent journey as lovers and disheartened deserters.
Can two people, on opposite sides of a brutal war, find comfort in each other’s arms?
Elena is a Russian medic near the front lines and she’s seen her fair share of the war. Death is everywhere and the more she is around the soldiers, the harder her heart becomes. She had a wonderful life: married, teaching and surrounded by family. But all that changed when the German dogs invaded her country. Now she’s alone, a medic near the Western front and there’s nothing she can do about it.
Without warning, she’s forced into a ruthless arm of the Russian army: The Night Witches. This group of all-female pilots and navigators flew at night, dropping bombs over the German army. Elena’s world is forever changed. Instead of easing pain and healing soldiers, she’s killing and murdering them. The upside, though, is Elena gets an few extra rations of vodka.
Meanwhile, we meet German Lieutenant, Halder, a former professor and concentration camp officer. Just like Elena, he’s a soldier fighting for his life, sanity and moral compass. His men trust him to lead them into battle and that just makes it worse for Halder. He gets orders to attack a portion of the front and while out on patrol, his unit is bombed by none other that those drat Night Witches. He orders his men to shoot down the airplane, not knowing that Elena is in the airplane. He has a head injury and passes out.
When both of them wake up, they are in a farmer’s field. Reluctantly, Elena helps the bastard German, though she threatens to kill him at every possible moment. They hold up in the farmhouse and in a strange twist of fate, help each other’s injuries heal. But can their hearts heal from the ravages of war or is love impossible at Death’s door?
Death Steppe is one of those rare books that sticks with you long after you finish reading it. The author does a brilliant job of thrusting the realities of war on the reader and I was forced to face the truth: war is hell, no matter which side you’re on. Told in both Elena and Halder’s points of view, I witnessed for myself a glimmer of humanity and if possible, kindness and love. The character development, plot progression and historical accuracy makes this a must read.
I love historical fiction because it gives me a glimpse into how it might have been if I lived in a different time, with different circumstances. I was drawn to this story based on the premise but was unprepared for the sheer emotional torment I would face. My husband, the World War Two expert in our household, told me the key to writing an excellent book on World War Two is grabbing the reader by the shirt collar and showing war through the eyes of a lowly soldier, not a general. Judy Bruce does that brilliantly.
The only downside I had when reading it was the initial romance being introduced. Elena and Halder hating each other one minute and kissing/having sex the next minute. It was a bit of a shock but I understood the motivation as I continued reading.
If you love historical fiction and looking for a gripping novel in the same vein as the movie, A Bridge Too Far, you have to read Death Steppe. Even if war novels are not your thing, you will get an eye-opening experience with this book!
Elena. I continually found myself drawn into her torment, her anguish and her ability to survive. She’s had everything she loves taken away from her and yet, in the middle of a war that never seems to end, she finds the will to keep going. I don’t know if I could’ve survived given what she’s been through. She’s a true hero, in every sense of the word.
“You bastard Nazis. I could have continued teaching like I wanted. Why did you Nazi animals invade my country? You killed my brother. My husband is dead. And I will die.” ~Elena
My Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy it now:
Barnes and Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-steppe-judy-bruce/1121803757?ean=9781329047372
Hello, book fans. I am the mother of two, the wife of one, and the sibling of three (formerly four). I also blog at heyjoood.com where I ramble about favorite books and movies and personal topics--my younger sister Janet who died of brain cancer, and my autistic son Danny who takes quirky to an amazing level. Aside from writing novels, I have contributed various works on law, history, and social issues. I am a Kirkus Reviews Featured Author, and a member of Goodreads, the Authors Guild, the Cassell Network of Writers, and the American Film Institute. Yet my true love, apart from my family, is fiction—writing and reading it.
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Reviewed by: Mrs. N