By: Amber Lough
A dramatic page-turner that captures the devastating toll of war and the impact of women’s struggles and solidarity, through the lens of a little-known slice of history.
In 1917, Russia is losing the war with Germany, soldiers are deserting in droves, and food shortages on the home front are pushing people to the brink of revolution. Seventeen-year-old Katya is politically conflicted, but she wants Russia to win the war. Working at a munitions factory seems like the most she can do to serve her country―until the government begins recruiting an all-female army battalion. Inspired, Katya enlists. Training with other brave women, she finds camaraderie and a deep sense of purpose. But when the women’s battalion heads to the front, Katya has to confront the horrifying realities of war. Faced with heartbreak and disillusionment, she must reevaluate her commitment and decide where she stands.
Inspired by the real Women’s Battalion of Death, which fought for Russia in the early 1900s, this emotional and compelling story gives voice to women often overlooked in history while providing resonant similarities to today.
Katya Pavlova and her older brother, Maxim, were raised by her military father in Petrograd, Russia, after her mother abandoned their family. At 17, she’s abandoned her studies as a chemist and works in a munitions factory filling grenades for the war against Germany, saving her wages to pay off her brother’s gambling debts, his vice since being wounded in action. Even as she questions the Tsar’s choices and finds merit in the idealist beliefs of the socialist Bolsheviks, Katya feels compelled to help the war effort, especially after her brother defects after being called back to the front. When she learns of a newly formed women’s death battalion accepting volunteers, she joins along with her best friend, even though the battalion is meant primarily to boost the morale of rapidly deserting Imperial soldiers. Soon, Katya finds herself leading a platoon through intense and demanding training and, eventually, at the front lines.
Katya is a compelling heroine: loyal, persistent, and empathetic, leading her platoon with both compassion and strength. Through Katya’s eyes and conversations with her comrades, readers will recognize societal battles against sexism, classism, and familial expectation, all of which eerily parallel contemporary society.
Well-researched with memorable characters and emotional heft, this historical drama will stay with the reader, hopefully enlightening readers to women’s undeniable role in history, including war, and providing further context through which to view the ongoing fight for women’s rights and equality.