Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Red Winter by Dan Smith

review by Maryom

After years of being at war, first against Germans then against the White rebels seeking to over throw the Communist revolution, Nikolai Levitsky has had enough of fighting. All he wants to do is go home and settle back down with his wife and family. But when he reaches his home village, he's in for a shock. The place is deserted apart from one old woman who talks about the village being ravaged by Koschei, a terrifying figure from old Russian folk tales. The men are discovered in the nearby forest, horribly mutilated. The women and children are gone - taken away by Koschei and his men - and Nikolai can only follow the trail and hope to find his family still alive at the end of it. But Nikolai himself is being pursued and it soon emerges that his desire to be home with his family isn't as simple and straightforward as the reader's been led to believe.

Red Winter is a gripping historical thriller, set in a time and place familiar to readers of Dr Zhivago - the civil war period just after the first world war, when Russia was torn apart by the various factions fighting for supremacy. Armed units roam the countryside arbitrarily enforcing their version of the law and it's safest to trust no one, as even old friends may turn you in to save their own skin. Against this backdrop move Koschei and his men, leaving devastation and emptiness in their wake - and Nikolai follows.

This is definitely the sort of book that once started is difficult if not impossible to put down. There's a creepy feeling of menace from the very beginning, such that I'd almost expected something more supernatural - but to be honest, with such people around as Koschei, who would need supernatural horrors?
It isn't a book of all out and out violence, though. On his journey through the beginnings of winter, Nikolai encounters people who share his frustration at the seemingly endless war; some looking for a safe place to hole up while the violence wears itself out; others out on their own quests for revenge. Nikolai himself is a complex, flawed hero, but one for whom I felt a lot of sympathy. Once full of ideals but now finding they've let him down, he's almost as much at war with himself as his country is.

This is the first Dan Smith thriller I've read  - I actually won it in a competition hosted on The Little Reader Library blog - but I'll be on the look out for more.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Orion 
Genre - adult, historical thriller

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