Narrator: James Langton
Series: The Bronze Horseman #1
Published by William Morrow on April 1, 2001
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler's armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.
Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander's impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.
I have heard about The Bronze Horseman for years, mostly from people asking for books to read after they finished Outlander. I can see why so many Outlander fans adore these books. There are larger-than-life main characters, a lot of sex (a LOT), and a middle section that was so boring I wanted to poke my ears out. Still, there was something mesmerizing about this story. Books where people persevere through the most impossible circumstances are always appealing, but I think what grabbed me was that there are stories of surviving through unspeakable hardship all over history, and most certainly all over WWII. I have always said that amongst the unbelievable toughness of the people of Eastern Europe/former communist block countries, the Russians stand out for their absolute refusal to back down. The Bronze Horseman, written by a Russian author, highlights that determination that I have always sensed within my Russian acquaintances. The story begins on the day that Germany invades the Soviet Union and the people of Leningrad are convinced that this will be a temporary blip and that the Nazi forces will be crushed immediately. Of course, this doesn’t happen, and Metanov family must try to survive what would be known as the Siege of Leningrad. Everything about Tatiana and Alexander’s story has a sweeping, Zhivagian quality to it, but within their perpetually star-crossed romance is a story about an 18 year old woman trying to keep her family alive while a city slowly starves to death. The descriptions of daily life, of the quest for food, are horrifying and feel very real. I found my attitude toward food and food waste changing as I read the vivid descriptions of what people went through as they starved in a once flourishing city. Since the siege is not something that is often taught in-depth in schools, I also found myself looking up more information about this period. I know most readers concentrate on the romance of the story, which was all encompassing, but the two are entwined. Everything they are as a couple is wrapped up the horror of war and desperation of survival. Alexander becomes a beacon as Tatiana’s life disintegrates. Their love becomes something that preserves their humanity in inhumane conditions.
Of course, there are some WTF moments and Alexander’s character is not without its problematic aspects. Tatiana is not a character I related to on a personal level, but I certainly admire her a great deal. As I mentioned above, the middle section of the book drags and drags which was disappointing after a very intense first half. I chose to listen to this on audio because it was such a monster of a book, length-wise. (The audio book was around 25 hours or so). James Langton, who is a veteran romance narrator, did a pretty good job. His Russian was very good, but I think some scenes may not have made me roll my eyes as much had I been reading instead of listening. Overall, though, the book was enjoyable and extremely interesting. If you like historical romances with big, sweeping story arcs, this is the book for you. I am going to continue reading the series because despite some of my misgivings, I do want to see how their story ends.