Review copy was received from Library. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Published by HarperAudio on March 29, 2022
Genres: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Length: 12 hours, 51 minutes
Amazon, Audible, Libro.fm, Barnes & Noble, Apple
In the snowbound city of Kiev, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son - but Hitler’s invasion of Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper - a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the Eastern Front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.
Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC - until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness. But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.
“A quiet bookworm who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper” is an epitaph I would want for myself if I were in an RPG or Urban Fantasy novel. Who am I kidding? I’d want it regardless. As the tagline for The Diamond Eye, my interest was captured immediately and the book shot straight to the top my TBR pile. In reality, I didn’t need a reason beyond the author’s name to start reading. Kate Quinn is a master at her craft, with a command over storytelling and an ability to balance action with moments of introspection and tender human connections. The Diamond Eye is based on the real-life, World War II Soviet Sniper Lyudmila (Mila) Pavlichenko. Although this is a fictionalized version of her life and exploits, the depiction of historical events and use of Mila’s ‘official’ memoir add authenticity to the narrative and capture the spirit of a woman’s determination to protect what she holds most dear.
Young, single mom, Mila has worked hard to improve her circumstances and pursue her education while caring for her son. She’s on the verge of completing her dissertation when she answers the call to serve and joins the Red Army. The story is told from dual plotlines; one following Mila’s enlistment, training, and exploits during the war, the other covering her time as part of a Soviet delegation in the US, gathering support for the war effort. I am not a fan of switching between two different time periods, but I don’t think the suspense could have been sustained had the narrative been more linear.
I grew up in the latter half of the Cold War, and as a kid, I know how US propaganda colored the way I perceived life behind the iron curtain. It was conveniently left out of my elementary education on the USSR that literacy and equality were foundational to the Soviet Union. Mila, as a heroine, wouldn’t exist if it were not for those principals. I liked how Kate Quinn didn’t let her “Western” mindset taint Mila’s patriotism and belief in a communist society. Instead, she uses those to create an interesting, believable back-story for Mila.
As a character, Mila is a fully fleshed-out individual with her own flaws, fears, and dreams, making her journey all the more relatable and compelling. The supporting characters are equally well-crafted, providing depth and adding layers to the overall narrative. While Mila fights the Nazis with her riffle, her estranged husband, Alexei, is the villain she has to fight on a more personal level. Her commanding officer, Lyonya, provides sunshine and humor amidst the privation of war. Her partner Kostia is as interesting a character as Mila herself; a rock for her to turn to when the war or her life get out of control.
The author paints a vivid picture of the sniper’s battlefield, capturing both the physical and emotional struggles faced by Mila. There are plenty of times where the reader finds themselves immersed in the gritty reality of war, experiencing heart-wrenching losses, hunger, and despair alongside the protagonist. To not have those would cheat the characters of their victories. However, I was still able to close the book feeling inspired and uplifted. She finds friends, allies, and romance in unlikely places, without having to apologize for who or what she is.
The Diamond Eye is an engrossing read that will captivate both history enthusiasts and fans of gripping war novels. Kate Quinn skillfully weaves together historical events with fictional elements to create a riveting tale of strength, sacrifice, and resilience.
I really enjoyed Saskia Maarleveld’s performance. She did an amazing job with the Russian and 40’s era American accents and I was able to easily distinguish between the different characters. Her portrayal of Mila was excellent and kept with the emotional control of the character herself. I would have liked Mila’s narrated thoughts, in addition to her speaking parts, to be read with an accent, but that is just a personal preference. The pacing was perfect for me at 1.15x.
Listen to the clip: HERE
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