* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Release Date: January 26th 2016
Summary (from Goodreads):
World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.
Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.
These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.
I loved the idea of this book as soon as I read the blurb. I feel I’ve heard of a lot of twists on WWII, most of them being ‘what if the Nazi’s won the war?’ I felt this was such a small thing to tweak – having women fighting alongside men – but gave so many possibilities, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.
I struggled a little to get into it at first, but I’d blame this on Christmas time/a bit of a reading slump. I came back to it in 2016 with fresh eyes and was quickly sucked in. The story follows three main women at war – Rio, Frangie and Rainy – who are all in different units, doing very different jobs, but whose paths do eventually cross.
The book progresses quite slowly at first. We see the girls signing up, each for various different, but equally valid reasons, and then them in training, before they finally go off on assignments. I was glad the book didn’t linger on training too long – I know it’s probably an important part but it just felt like something I would have read before/seen in various films.
I knew that attitudes to women would be a big part of the story, and I did enjoy reading the different ways men reacted to living and training and fighting alongside them – some were more accepting than others, understanding that it was whatever was needed to win the war, but these were a minority. There was a lot of lewd jokes and gestures, and mostly an expectation that the women would be little more than secretaries/support roles, which is why I loved that they end up on the front line (hence the title) and one of them is even the first to get kills in. The women are all very different characters – no one is ‘a wimp’ or ‘one of the guys’ or any stereotypes like that, which is what makes this book work.
What took me by surprise was the attitudes towards Frangie, a black woman at war, and her fellow black soldiers, whether they were men or women. It’s probably naive of me but I’d not really thought about racism being a big thing around war time, but this books shows how there were separate ‘coloured units’ and a lot of the white soldiers wouldn’t want to be looked at by a coloured doctor like Frangie, even when desperately injured. It made me sad that those attitudes existed, and while I know we’re not perfect these days, it’s a hell of a lot better than that.
The story is framed by an unknown narrator, talking from near the end of the war, injured in some way although we don’t know how. It’s a clever device as they tell the story of all three girls, and don’t reveal who they are themselves. I’m hoping it is someone we know, but I’m glad they remain unknown for now – it puts more weight on the fate of the girls because you don’t know who survives.
The worst thing about this book is that it’s the first of a series and I’ll probably have to wait a year to read the sequel. I love the idea and the characters and can’t wait to find out what happens to them all. This is definitely one to read in 2016.