Book Review of “The Huntress” by Kate Quinn.
By the beginning of 1950, the efforts to find Nazi war criminals and bring them to justice for their horrendous and unthinkable crimes was already on the wane, except for the biggest of fish. Still, some Nazi hunters couldn’t let go of finding any of these criminals, no matter how small. On this backdrop, Kate Quinn’s newest novel focuses on a British ex-war correspondent Ian and his American ex-soldier friend Tony, who aren’t willing to allow these Nazis to stay hidden and avoid justice, and in particular, die Jägerin – the Huntress – the woman who killed Ian’s brother Sebastian. Into this mix, comes Nina, a former combat pilot for the Soviet Army who, as a witness to Sebastian’s murder, joins forces with Ian and Tony in their quest. Finally, there’s Jordan, the young American woman in Boston who wants to become a photographer, but she knows her widowed father needs her, and is willing to sacrifice her career for him. Jordan also learns to suppress her suspicions about her father’s new wife, Annelise, a woman who left post-war Europe, bringing with her the obviously war-traumatized young girl, Ruth.
On the surface, this plot summary of this novel seems somewhat complicated, but Quinn helps smooth this out by telling the story from three aspects. First there’s Ian and his determination to find his brother’s killer; then there’s Nina’s wartime adventures, which brings her to Sebastian, and; finally, Jordan’s story with her father, his new wife, and Ruth, all mixed with her own ambitions. Surprisingly enough, by artfully splicing together all of these fragments, and through the very distinctive voices she gives each of them, Quinn somehow succeeded in simplifying the overall story line. For me, that was no small feat and I must praise Quinn for this. Mind you, she did much the same with her previous novel “The Alice Network” so that wasn’t much of a surprise.
To begin with, I already knew that character development was one of Quinn’s fortes from her previous novel “The Alice Network,” and she doesn’t disappoint here in the least. My personal favorite (and I’m noticing I’m not alone in this assessment) was Nina. Quinn paints Nina to absolute perfection, even going as far as giving imperfect English when she appears in scenes with the other main characters, but sounding grammatically correct when she’s speaking in Russian while telling her own story. I seriously read the former passages with a Russian accent in my head, it was that convincing! Add to this the fact that I know very little about female Russian combat flyers, and Quinn’s research into this facet of WW2 became something for which I was eager to learn more. This alone might have been enough for me to love Nina, but Quinn made her just feisty enough, just passionate enough, and just troubled enough to make her totally believable, and ultimately the most compelling character of the book. This was enhanced by such a range of experiences and emotional upheavals, that had Quinn decided to just focus solely on Nina, I would have been one very happy camper. One also wonders if the title of this book didn’t just refer to the Nazi they were hunting, but also to Nina.
But Nina wasn’t the only major protagonist here (more the pity); we also had Ian and Jordan. Ian was highly sympathetic, and his motivation for hunting Nazis, and this particular woman, were clear and believable. I also liked Jordan, and how Quinn portrayed her spunk and desire for a real career in photography, which conflicted with her adoration of her father and wanting to care for him, as well as her growing need to care for the troubled Ruth. However, neither of them reached the level of empathy that Quinn achieved with Nina’s character, which made this book a touch lopsided. As for Tony, our extra fourth character, his usefulness becomes apparent through Ian’s and Jordan’s story, making him a minor character. To be honest, I was disappointed that Tony didn’t get a chance to tell us his story himself, and thereby make him into another major protagonist, because Quinn did give him a very rich and fascinating back-story, along with an endearing charm. (By the way, I noticed that Kirkus Reviews is hoping that there will be sequels to the Nazi hunting stories. I wouldn’t mind that myself, but I have a feeling that Tony and Jordan wouldn’t suit such sequels, which would be a shame.)
There were other aspects of this novel that weren’t as successfully written here, mostly regarding the plot and consistencies in how some characters acted. For example, after Jordan reveals her suspicions about Annelise, Jordan seems to too easily accept Annelise’s explanations as fact and reasonable, and almost immediately pushes away her fears. She then embraces this woman a bit too warmly, and too quickly for my taste. It seems to me that their relationship would have always included some of the lingering skepticism on Jordan’s part, as well as a level of persistent resentment from Annelise. You would think that a cold-blooded murder such as die Jägerin wouldn’t be able to keep up the act of being so forgiving and thoughtful for so long without somehow trying to extract a level of revenge. Mind you, that was mostly excusable, if we assume that die Jägerin is not only evil, but also a truly talented actress! That makes sense, since otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to capture the heart of Dan (Jordan’s father) so easily. I also felt that the Huntress at the conclusion of this book were just a bit too pliant for my taste.
As noted above, what mostly makes up for these drawbacks is Quinn’s character development, particularly with Nina, and also with the underused Tony. Add to this some powerfully written and absolutely captivating action scenes – not limited to, but surely highlighted by Nina’s experiences in the Soviet air force – and this novel becomes a true thriller. Overall, I truly enjoyed this book and found it a very powerful and absorbing read, so I will recommend it with a healthy four and a half out of five stars. (By the way, I’m seeing lots of full five stars from other reviewers, so I have a feeling this novel is going to be a real hit!)
William Morrow/Harper Collins released “The Huntress” by Kate Quinn on February 26, 2019. This book is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary) as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for the ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.