World War II is one of the most popular eras for historical fiction, and it’s the setting for numerous bestselling novels such as “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson and “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah. Then there’s “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn. This word-of-mouth bestseller is a terrific story of courage and redemption about two women – a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947. Released in 2017, the author’s fans were anxious for her next book, and in February, “The Huntress” was published, and it is well worth the wait. Set from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, it’s a compulsively readable historical thriller about brave women who dare to break the mold of what’s expected of them.
The plot focuses on a small team of Nazi hunters in search of the title character, an Austrian woman who commits unspeakable crimes toward the end of the war. The novel divides into three storylines, told by three narrators, in alternating timelines, bringing together a British war correspondent, a young American woman dreaming of becoming a famous photographer, and one of the famed Russian bomber pilots known as the Night Witches who fought in the first all-female regiment of Soviet bomber pilots.
Lorelei Vogt, die Jägerin – the huntress of the book’s title – has killed children and POWs in cold blood. Also the mistress of an SS officer, she is soon fleeing her position of privilege in Poland desperate to evade capture and punishment. A pro at reinventing herself, she achieves anonymity and winds up in the United States, where she settles in as any other refugee, starting a new life and forgetting the war.
Chasing her is Ian Graham who, along with his American sidekick Tony, have started a shoestring operation to catch Nazi war criminals who seem to be swarming through the cracks. Ian was a British war correspondent who has seen violent, traumatic events. However, it’s something he didn’t witness that troubles him the most – the unexpected and unjust killing of his brother, Sebastian, by the infamous huntress. Ian is determined to avenge Sebastian’s murder and tenaciously stalks his prey. Even when the trail grows cold, he keeps an open file on the huntress, waiting until she reappears.
Ian’s obsession with the huntress begins when he meets the last person to see his brother alive: Nina Markova, a Soviet fighter pilot who met Sebastian in war-torn Poland. Feisty, independent and resilient, Nina grew up in poverty on the frigid banks of Lake Baikal in remote Siberia. She learned the harsh lessons of life and survival on her own. To escape her brutal family, Nina joined the famed Night Witches, the bombing squadron that brought terror to the German front each night. After a dark and tragic childhood, Nina found peace in the air and purpose in fighting and she and her “sisters” became national heroes, earning praise from Stalin.
Years after the war, Nina joins Ian on the search for the woman who has haunted them both for years, following a new lead to Boston with Tony in tow. There they meet Jordan, an intelligent young woman, antiques dealer and aspiring photographer who has always been suspicious of her stepmother, Anneliese Weber. Jordan loves Anneliese but questions her background, and though they are close, there’s something about Anneliese’s past that continues to eat at Jordan. One of the most intriguing layers of this story is the tension between Jordan’s suspicion of and love for her stepmother. Through this narrative, “The Huntress” asks the question: can a person who does appalling things still be good?
Quinn weaves the storylines and characters together in a smooth narrative that builds toward a nail-biting conclusion. Although Ian’s point of view is less convincing than those of the female characters, he is an appealing presence. He finds the peace that eluded him after his years covering the war, and Jordan realizes what it means to be an independent woman in a time and place not quite ready to welcome such women. The love story that emerges between Jordan and Tony is inspirational and straightforward and foreshadows the social changes in the years to come. Sprinkled with real-life characters and based on true events, “The Huntress” is historical fiction at its best.
Meet Kate Quinn and four other leading female authors of historical fiction when the Literary Guild of St. Simons Island presents a talk on “Ribbons of Scarlett: A Novel of the French Revolution” on Oct. 7. The book, written by six authors, tells the story of the tumultuous French Revolution from the female perspective, giving voice to heroines using their own documented words. The noteworthy authors, whose books have landed on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists, are Kate Quinn (“The Huntress,” “The Alice Network”), Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (“America’s First Daughter,” “My Dear Hamilton”), Sophie Perinot (“Medicis Daughter”), Heather Webb (“Meet Me in Monaco”) and Eliza Knight (“My Lady Viper”). They have collaborated to write “Ribbons of Scarlet”(HarperCollins Publishers, October 2019), a timely and compelling novel about the power of women to start a revolution – and change the world.
The French Revolution was an epoch begun by women, and the novel brings to life in a single interwoven narrative seven of the real-life heroines who both shaped it and worked to resist it. The characters include Sophie de Condorcet, a liberal aristocrat and philosopher who questions the king’s right to rule; Louise Reine Audu, an impoverished fruit seller who leads the original women’s march; Princess Elizabeth, who learns to stand up for herself and her brother, King Louis XVI; Manon Roland, a leading politician’s brilliant wife who tried to write her way out of the escalating violence of the revolution; Pauline Leon, a pike-wielding chocolatier who grows disillusioned with the direction of the revolutionary women; Charlotte Corday, a moderate thinker bent on assassinating the radical Jean Paul Marat; and Emilie de Saint-Amaranthe, a beautiful courtesan’s daughter and the unlikely heroine, whose actions helped usher in the final days of the Reign of Terror. The women in this stunning, haunting, and compelling novel are not content to remain in their traditional roles but persist in raising their voices, ending the monarchy, and changing women’s place in politics and society ever after. The Literary Guild program will feature all the writers, except Heather Webb. It will be held at 7 p.m. in Room 108 at the St. Simons Casino. It’s free for guild members or $10 for non-members. Space is limited and reservations are encouraged at www.eventbrite.com.